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Texas Greens Cheer New EPA Mercury Rules

Steam rises from the stacks at the Martin Lake Coal-Fired Power Plant in Tatum, TX March 30, 2011.
Photo by Tom Pennington
Steam rises from the stacks at the Martin Lake Coal-Fired Power Plant in Tatum, TX March 30, 2011.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced a new rule on Wednesday aimed at reducing the amount of mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants. It is unlikely to improve Texas officials' low opinion of the agency.

"This is a victory for public health, especially the health of our children," said Lisa Jackson, the EPA's head, as she announced the rules at a children's medical center in Washington, D.C.

The rules will take full effect in 2016, Jackson said. "Before this rule, there were no national standards limiting the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases," she said.
The rule is expected to force coal plants nationally to shut down or install scrubbers. Donna Nelson, chair of the Texas Public Utility Commission, submitted comments in August saying that the rule — together with other recent EPA regulations — would "detrimentally impact the reliability of electric service and the economy in Texas."  

Texas' attorney general, Greg Abbott, signed an amicus brief in October together with a number of other states asking a court to delay the rule until late 2012, but that did not happen.

Lauren Bean, a spokeswoman for Abbott, said Texas will have 60 days to challenge the new rule after it gets published in the federal register (which should happen in January). However, the EPA can simply ignore such a challenge, as the agency did with the cross-state rule, a different EPA rule limiting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants.

Environmentalists, who say that six of the nation's 10 most mercury-emitting power plants are in Texas, hailed the rule. "The hidden costs of toxic pollution from power plants far exceed the pennies that cleanup will cost each consumer," said Karen Hadden, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, in a statement.

Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, said that the new rule "should impact all 19 Texas coal-fired power plants," which will need to install a scrubber or other technology to reduce mercury emissions.

Luminant, a huge Texas power generator that has said it plans to close two units at a Northeast Texas coal plant in January due to the cross-state rule, said in a statement that it was reviewing the 1,117-page rule.

"Luminant is committed to ongoing and significant emissions reductions, including reductions in our mercury emissions," the statement said.

Jackson, of the EPA, said that the new rule would create jobs as companies refitted their plants, and she declared satisfaction with her agency's work this year. "2011 has been a banner year for clean air," she said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry, campaigning on Wednesday in Muscatine, Iowa, told about 150 people assembled at an old button factory-turned-restaurant that he would pull back every regulation put in place by the EPA under the Obama administration.

That approach wouldn’t be limited to just the one federal agency, though. “It’s a fountain of regulations coming out of DC,” Perry said, adding that he would “audit every regulation that’s gone forward since ‘08 and if it kills jobs verses helps creates jobs, it’s gone.”

Reeve Hamilton contributed reporting from Iowa.


Kate Galbraith reported on clean energy for The New York Times from 2008 to 2009, serving as the lead writer for the Times' Green blog. She began her career at The Economist in 2000 and spent 2005 to 2007 in Austin as the magazine's Southwest correspondent. A Nieman fellow in journalism at Harvard University from 2007 to 2008, she has an undergraduate degree in English from Harvard and a master's degree from the London School of Economics.