The Environmental Protection Agency is tightening rules to limit emissions of mercury and other pollutants from coal-fired power plants.
Experts say the move will bring major health improvements to Michigan and other Midwestern states. The rule change would lower emissions known to harm brain development in children and contribute to heart disease and respiratory problems in adults.
Andy Knott, Beyond Coal campaign central region director for the Sierra Club, said the rule could help persuade Michigan’s power companies to speed up their conversion to renewable energy sources.
“We’re seeing coal plants retire at record pace across the country,” Knott pointed out. “This is mostly due to the economics of clean energy, and the fact that we can now move in a cost-effective manner to clean energy like wind, solar, and battery storage.”
Michigan is home to what conservation groups call three of the top 100 most polluting power plants in the U.S. According to Environment Michigan, the top 10 “dirtiest” plants in the state are responsible for 86% of carbon dioxide emissions, despite generating only 52% of Michigan’s electricity.
Michigan’s primary power producers, Consumers and DTE Energy, have announced plans to retire their fossil-fuel-powered plants by 2035. But Knott argued it would mean another decade or more of toxic emissions — mercury, nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide — which would continue to pollute Michigan’s air, soil, and water.
“There’s no safe level of mercury exposure,” Knott stressed. “This is why EPA’s action is so significant, because coal-fired power plants remain a significant source of mercury emissions across the country.”
In February, an EPA panel found regulating toxic emissions is necessary to protect the public’s health. Knott added the current proposal would reverse a Trump administration plan to roll back emissions standards.
“I think this is a continued step in the right direction from the Environmental Protection Agency,” Knott contended. “There are many other pollutants that the agency needs to address. There are many areas where EPA needs to continue to strengthen health protections.”
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