The Environmental Protection Agency official unveiled important new standards regarding mercury emissions yesterday.  These standards would require deep cuts in emissions of mercury, acid gases and soot from coal-fired power plants and are likely to help reshape the industry as companies turn off old plants and decide whether to clean up existing ones or switch to cleaner-burning fuels such as natural gas.  

The White House is billing this as a health measure, stating that although it will cost $9.6 billion annually to implement, it will provide much more in health benefits including 100,000 fewer heart and asthma attacks. According to the Administration, "This crucial step forward will bring enormous public health benefits. By substantially reducing emissions of toxic pollutants that lead to neurological damage, cancer, respiratory illnesses, and other serious health issues, these standards will benefit millions of people across the country, but especially children, older Americans, and other vulnerable populations. Cumulatively, the total health and economic benefits to society could reach $90 billion each year."  

Understandably many power plants and manufacturers  have concerns and fear that  these regulations will have a significant negative impact.  Republican officials have criticized the rule and are likely to challenge it in court and in Congress. They say it is too expensive and would force the premature closing of scores of power plants, eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs and threaten the supply of electricity in some parts of the country.

In a New York Times article, Scott H. Segal, who represents utilities that would be affected by the rule, said the E.P.A. was playing down the costs and double-counting the benefits. “The bottom line,” he said in an analysis of the regulation, is that “this rule is the most expensive air rule that E.P.A. has ever proposed in terms of direct costs."  

The Wall Street Journal points out that the rule is sure to fact legal challenges and Republicans will continue efforts to delay it with legislation.  Revisions to the Clean Air Act. passed by Congress in 1990. required reductions of mercenary and other pollutants.  

On the other hand, Sierra Club President, Michael Brune in a press release today stated "President Obama and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson marks a milestone for parents and families across the country. It means that, after decades of delay, we now have strong nationwide protections against toxic mercury, and most of all, it means peace of mind for the parents of more than 300,000 American babies born every year that have been exposed to dangerous levels of mercury".

Bottom line  this ruling will face legislative challenges by Republicans in Congress and court challenges by the utilities and manufacturing industry.  These challenges will be fought in Congress by many Democrats and defended in court by Environmentalists.  The regulations will stick.  They are a result of legislation passed by Congress in 1990 and for over twenty years legislators and industry have known that these regs would come to pass. In the meantime, hopefully our air quality will siginificantly improve.