On December 21, 2011, the United State Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it had issued the first ever national standards for mercury emissions and other air pollutants from power plants. The regulations were mandated by the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments. EPA estimates that the new standards will make a major contribution to public health by preventing 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks annually, as well as 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.

EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson stated, "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." According to EPA, the standards rely on widely available pollution controls that are already in use at more than half of the nation’s coal-fired power plants.

Sources will have three years to achieve compliance, with a fourth year available from state permitting authorities for technology installation. In developing the final rules, EPA consulted with State, local, and tribal officials in and also worked with industry groups, unions and other stakeholders. It reviewed over 900,000 comments. Critics of the regulations assert that they will result in job loss because older coal fired plants may be required to close. EPA counters that society as a whole will benefit because prevention of asthma, heart attacks, bronchitis and other illnesses attributable to air toxics will save $37 billion to $90 billion in health care costs each year by 2016.

Susanne Peticolas is a Director in the Gibbons Real Property & Environmental Department.