NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


November 29, 2004

The Environmental Protection Agency's proposed new rules for mercury reductions would cost about $1.4 billion per year, and would have a negligible impact on public health, says environmental consultant Joel Schwartz.

Two proposals are being considered which would target coal-fired utility boilers for mercury reductions. However, both are costly and the monetary benefits of such reductions are unknown, which even the EPA admits, says Schwartz.

  • The first proposal, based mainly on a cap and trade system, would cost about $1.36 billion per year to the industry, with an estimated cost to society of about $1.6 billion.
  • The second proposal, a two-phase reduction, would cost $2.9 billion in 2010; $3.7 billion in 2015; and $4.9 billion in 2020; with equal social and control costs.

However, the benefits are questionable, particularly in light previous studies examining the effects of mercury exposure to mothers and children on the Faroes Islands and the Seychelles, says Schwartz:

  • Based on the Faroes study, a total elimination of mercury emissions in the United States would improve children's health minimally: Children in the 10th percentile on neurological and cognitive test scores would move to between 10.3 and 10.6 percentiles, at best.
  • A study of children in Seychelles indicated no harm from mercury exposure, even though their mercury exposure was greater than the most highly-exposed Americans.
  • Furthermore, the new rules assume a one-to-one correspondence between mercury emissions and mercury levels in freshwater fish; but more likely fish mercury levels would decline by less than half of the amount of mercury depositions reductions.

Source: Joel Schwartz, "A Regulatory Analysis of EPA's Proposed Rule to Reduce Mercury Emissions from Utility Boilers," AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, September 2004.


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