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It's No Secret: Power Plants Can Clean Up Their Dirty Ways

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed last month to clean up the toxic air emissions of coal-fired power plants, it wasn't a surprise. The date actually had been set for about a year, thanks to a court-ordered deadline won by Earthjustice and other groups. And for years prior to that deadline, a back-and-forth legal battle raged between a coalition of environmental and public health organizations—with Earthjustice in a leading role—and the coal-fired power industry's lobbyists and political cronies.

In fact, the effort to clean up power plants' emissions of mercury, arsenic and other toxics could legally drink a beer if it were a person. The seed of that effort was planted by Congress 21 years ago in amendments to the Clean Air Act.

So, don't believe the protestations from some sectors of the power industry that they can't possibly comply with these important health protections in time. These health protections have been coming to town for many, many years and would've arrived much sooner had the intransigence of industry not delayed them time and again.

A recent report prepared by M.J. Bradley & Associates confirms that the coal-fired power industry is well situated to reduce its emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gases and other harmful pollutants within the time frame that the EPA has set. The report's main takeaways are that cost-effective methods of dramatically reducing toxic emissions are available, industry has experience installing them—as many plants have already done—and there is a highly skilled American workforce (pollution control equipment companies) that is ready to get to work making our air safer to breathe.

That's the reality, and not all within the industry are blind to it. Anne Hoskins with the Public Service Enterprise Group, a utility, told reporters that the EPA's health protections can be met "in a cost-effective manner while retaining the reliability of the electric system." She added: "The industry has had more than enough time to study and prepare for these requirements. There ought to be no further delay."

The delay thus far has taken its toll on our health. The Clean Air Task Force estimated that coal plants' emissions of soot, which will be reduced dramatically under the EPA's proposal, led to 13,000 premature deaths in 2010. And research by the Environmental Integrity Project has shown that coal plants have dumped hundreds of tons of mercury into our air and environment over the past decade. This is of serious concern to pregnant women, women of childbearing age and new parents, as exposure to mercury can irreparably impact a child's ability to talk, read, write, think and learn.

Ill health and premature death brought about by air pollution is a human tragedy that continues to unfold every day. We have the technology and the capacity to do something about that. What we need now is the will.

You can show your support for the right to breathe clean air by joining our campaign.