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Toxics Regs for Power Plants Agreed by EPA, Environmentalists

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has agreed to adopt rules setting standards for reducing toxic air pollution, primarily from mercury, from the nation's coal- and oil-burning power plants by November 2011, according to a court settlement reached between the agency and a coalition of environmental groups, the groups said.

The lawsuit was based on EPA's failure to meet the Clean Air Act's deadline for issuing regulations controlling toxic air pollution from power plants. The settlement calls on EPA to promulgate final maximum achievable control technology emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants (HAP) from coal- and oil-fired electric utility power plants, as required by the law.

"Power plants are the largest unregulated industrial source of air toxics. It is unconscionable that 19 years after the Clean Air Act of 1990 we still do not have air toxics controls on these large existing sources of pollution," said James Pew of Earthjustice. "After years of litigating this issue, our groups look forward to a productive working relationship with the agency as it finally develops these rules."

Children and women of childbearing age are at risk when power plants emit the levels of mercury they are emitting today; all 50 states and one U.S. territory have declared fish advisories warning about mercury contamination, the environmental groups said.

"We are very pleased with the outcome of this case and look forward to working with the EPA to develop emissions standards for this industry that mandate the deep cuts in this pollution that the law requires," said Ann Weeks, legal director at the Clean Air Task Force, one of the lead attorneys for the groups.

"Addressing hazardous air pollutant emissions from utilities is a high priority for EPA," an agency spokesman said Friday. "In July of this year, we started the process to regulate mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act by asking for comment on our plans to collect information on emissions from these facilities. EPA has agreed to propose standards for these facilities by March 2011 and to finalize them by November 2011. The agency is committed to developing a strategy to reduce harmful emissions from these facilities, which threaten the air we all breathe."

The settlement was filed Thursday with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA was required to control power plants' toxic air emissions by December 2002. Instead, the Bush administration asked Congress to eliminate that requirement. Unable to win Congressional support for that request, the Bush EPA tried to declare that the required pollution controls were simply not necessary or appropriate. The federal appeals court in Washington, DC, unanimously rejected that attempt in February 2008, saying the power industry remained subject to the requirement to control the air toxics it emits, and EPA remains responsible for issuing rules governing those emissions. Following that court victory, the environmental and public health groups filed a lawsuit to compel EPA to regulate the emissions issue.

Coal-burning power plants are the nation's largest unregulated source of mercury pollution, and they also emit lead, arsenic and other hazardous chemicals, the environmental groups said.

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