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PSR Applauds Federal Court Decision to Force Stronger Mercury Controls on New Coal Plants

February 8, 2008

Washington, DC - The D.C. Court of Appeals ruled today that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) violated the Clean Air Act when it removed oil and coal-fired power plants from a list of sources of hazardous air pollutants. In 2005, Physicians for Social Responsibility, 14 states and a collection of other health and environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR), which would have allowed coal plants to trade mercury pollution credits with other less-polluting power plants. EPA’s mercury cap-and-trade scheme was rebuked by the federal court ruling, and EPA must now develop stronger standards for mercury and other toxic pollutants from new and existing power plants.

“This ruling shows how flawed the EPA rule was and sends a clear message about the health impacts of mercury,” said Dr. Michael McCally, Executive Director of Physicians for Social Responsibility. Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury emission in the U.S. In addition, coal plants are also a major source of other heavy metals like arsenic and lead, as well as dioxins. “EPA must now get to work on establishing power plant emissions standards for mercury and other toxic pollutants that truly protect public health,” Dr. McCally added.

When deposited in water bodies, mercury is converted to an organic form that travels up the food chain and accumulates in fish. Humans are primarily exposed to mercury through the consumption of contaminated fish. Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to the toxic effects of mercury, which can damage the brain and cause learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. According to EPA estimates, as many as 600,000 children are born each year with dangerous levels of mercury in their bodies.

More than 100 new coal-fired power plants have been proposed across the country. Today’s ruling will have a significant impact on these new plants by requiring utilities to determine on a case-by-case basis how to reduce mercury emissions to a level equal to or below the best-controlled similar source. “The Court’s decision serves to illuminate the fact that it’s not just global warming gases that we need to be concerned about when talking about coal. These power plants are also spewing pollutants that threaten healthy child development,” McCally said.

For more information contact Will Callaway at 202-667-4260 or wcallaway@psr.org.

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