America’s coal-fired power plants release more than 386,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants each year, including lead, arsenic, and 48 tons of mercury. When mercury enters streams and other waters, it turns into methylmercury – a highly toxic form of mercury that accumulates in fish and other animals that eat fish. At high doses, mercury exposure in humans can cause tremors, inability to walk, convulsions – even death. For developing babies and children, it can impair neurological development.
The Izaak Walton League won a major legal victory in 2009 – a legal settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that required the agency to propose and adopt rules for hazardous air pollutants emitted from coal- and oil-fired power plant. The agency issued those rules in 2011 – and faced lawsuits immediately from states and power companies. The battle is ongoing.
Even without a federal mandate to clean up these power plants, as the costs to upgrade, maintain, and operate older coal-fired power plants increase, it often makes more economic sense to retire or replace these facilities with cleaner, less expensive sources of energy. The League developed and presented economic analyses to regulatory agencies showing the benefits of cleaner power-generation alternatives compared with massive new investments in aging coal plants to meet air pollution regulations.