NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

EPA Mercury Rules Unnecessary

May 31, 2011

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently issued 946 pages of new rules requiring that U.S. power plants sharply reduce their emissions of mercury and other air pollutants.  EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson claims that while the regulations will cost electricity producers $10.9 billion annually, they will save 17,000 lives and generate up to $140 billion in health benefits.  There is no factual basis for these assertions, say Willie Soon, a natural scientist at Harvard, and Paul Driessen, a senior policy adviser for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow.

How do America's coal-burning power plants fit into the picture?  They emit an estimated 41-48 tons of mercury per year.  But U.S. forest fires emit at least 44 tons per year; cremation of human remains discharges 26 tons; Chinese power plants eject 400 tons; and volcanoes, subsea vents, geysers and other sources spew out 9,000-10,000 additional tons per year.

  • All these emissions enter the global atmospheric system and become part of the U.S. air mass.
  • Since our power plants account for less than 0.5 percent of all the mercury in the air we breathe, eliminating every milligram of it will do nothing about the other 99.5 percent in our atmosphere.
  • In the face of these minuscule risks, the EPA nevertheless demands that utility companies spend billions every year retrofitting coal-fired power plants that produce half of all U.S. electricity.

Source: Willie Soon and Paul Driessen, "The Myth of Killer Mercury," Wall Street Journal, May 25, 2011.

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