Mercury rule will clean air

Newsday: It took the Environmental Protection Agency two decades, but it has finally proposed a tough rule to make power plants reduce mercury emissions. That long overdue step will make our primary energy source, burning fossil fuels, less of a hazard to our health.

Mercury, a toxic metal, can damage the developing brains of children. So the state’s Department of Health issues advisories on how much fish caught in our waters can safely be eaten. In many of them, mercury levels in fish are so high that the department tells women younger than 50 and children younger than 15 to eat no fish caught there.

Much of the mercury comes from power plants in the Midwest and Pennsylvania. For dirty coal plants, the rule requires installation of existing technology to cut emissions of mercury and other toxic metals _ such as arsenic, chromium and nickel.

In the George W. Bush presidency, the EPA had proposed a less stringent standard. But in 2008, a federal appeals court rejected the weaker rule and ordered the agency to obey the clear intent of the Clean Air Act.

The EPA says the rule will cost affected utilities $10.9 billion in 2016, but that it will save far more by lowering the costs of health care associated with pollution. And it will create thousands of jobs. Those estimates will be subject to airing at public hearings on the new rule.

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