The federal appeals court recently ruled that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act when it adopted the Clean Air Mercury Rule in 2005, which removed coal-fired power plants from the list of hazardous air pollution sources that are subject to the Clean Air Act. The EPA’s decision would have allowed high levels of mercury pollution from power plants to persist through a flawed cap and trade system.
Because of the recent federal court decision, the EPA and individual states must abandon the weaker Clean Air Mercury regulations and develop tougher guidelines to control mercury from new and existing power plants. The ruling has the greatest impact on new power plants in the development stage like the behemoth Cliffside Power Plant being developed by Duke Energy in Western North Carolina. The Cliffside unit was originally permitted under the EPA’s illegal standards, which would have allowed the plant to emit 133 pounds of mercury each year. Because of the recent federal court ruling, the Cliffside plant must now be re-permitted under more stringent regulations.
The new ruling could result in a 95 percent reduction of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, which are currently the leading source of mercury pollution in America. Human exposure to mercury (mainly from eating contaminated fish) is linked to permanent damage to the central nervous system, which impairs hearing, vision, and motor skills. By the EPA’s own estimations, 600,000 children are born each year with unhealthy levels of mercury in their bodies.