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Coal burners have lost their fight
to keep from cleaning up emissions.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson today announced welcome new regulations governing the emissions of mercury and other air toxins. In a press release, the EPA noted:
EPA estimates that the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. The standards will also help America’s children grow up healthier—preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.

"By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health– and especially for the health of our children. With these standards that were two decades in the making, EPA is rounding out a year of incredible progress on clean air in America with another action that will benefit the American people for years to come," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution and provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance."

In a year in which environmental advocates have expressed considerable disappointment with the Obama administration's actions, this one is garnering high praise. Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, writes:

This is a major breakthrough for American families. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that damages developing brains in children and fetuses. A congressionally mandated study by the National Academy of Sciences found that for women who eat large amounts of seafood during pregnancy, the mercury exposure was likely to increase the number of children “who struggle to keep up in school and might require remedial classes or special education.” ...

This pollution is so ubiquitous that all 50 states advise people—especially women in childbearing years and young children—to avoid eating fish from certain contaminated waters. As of 2008, 38 states had statewide advisories. ...

The magnitude of these health benefits could make this rule one of the biggest environmental accomplishments of the Obama administration.

At the on-line magazine Grist, Dave Roberts, one of the administration's toughest environmental critics, had this to say:

But this one is a Big Deal. It's worth lifting our heads out of the news cycle and taking a moment to appreciate that history is being made. Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live. ...

this is an historic day and a real step forward for the forces of civilization. It's the beginning of the end of one of the last of the old-school, 20th-century air pollution problems. (Polluters and their rented conservatives will try to kick up dust about this, but check out this letter to Congress [PDF] from a group of health scientists, which says "exposure to mercury in any form places a heavy burden on the biochemical machinery within cells of all living organisms.") Long after everyone has forgotten who "won the morning" in the fight over these rules, or what effect they had on Obama's electoral chances, the rule's legacy will live on in a healthier, happier American people.

And here's Frank O’Donnell, chief of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch:

“I think this will prove to be the signature environmental accomplishment of the Obama administration. ... It will soon mean the end of the smoke-spewing coal power plant as we know it today. At the same time, the administration is trying to add a bit of flexibility to extinguish the bogus claim that these standards could mean lights out.”

There is some good historical background here.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Wed Dec 21, 2011 at 12:25 PM PST.

Also republished by Climate Hawks, Science Matters, DK GreenRoots, and Daily Kos.

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