EPA Moves to Cut Toxic Air Pollution from Coal Plants

WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency today proposed to strengthen its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to cut pollution from power plants that burn coal and oil, enhancing air quality and better protecting public health.   

EPA’s proposed standards would tighten limits on particulate matter pollution from these power plants, require continuous emissions monitors for particulate matter, and tighten mercury limits for power plants that burn lignite coal. 

The following is a statement from John Walke, director of the clean air project at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council): 

“EPA’s mercury and air toxics standards have been one of the most successful public health measures in the agency’s history, saving lives, decreasing heart disease, and preventing asthma attacks. But it’s long past time for an update.  

“While many coal plants have cut their pollution, a number continue to spew unacceptable levels of air toxins. 

“These proposed new standards would be a much-needed upgrade, but the agency should strengthen these standards even further to protect public health and capture the abilities of modern air pollution controls.”  


The electric power sector is one of the nation’s biggest polluters. Power plants are the country’s largest industrial source of acid gases, many toxic metals, and mercury, a neurotoxin that can harm children’s developing nervous systems and reduce their ability to think and learn.   

EPA adopted the standards in 2011, limiting mercury, lead and dozens of other hazardous air pollutants from power plants that burn coal and oil. In February, the agency reinstated its finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury, lead and scores of other hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. EPA had abandoned that determination under the previous administration. 

 These proposed regulations issued today would: 

  • Strengthen mercury limits for power plants, primarily in Texas and North Dakota, that burn dirty lignite coal. These plants have more lax emissions limits now; these new standards would put them in line with every other coal-burning power plant.  
  • Strengthen the limit for particulate matter emissions to meet the performance that many power plants can achieve, already.  
  • Require continuous monitors for particulate matter. Currently, plants have the option to do periodic stack tests, but continuous monitoring is more accurate, reliable and costs less than it did in 2011.  

 The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC 

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