IWLA Clean Air Program

Cleaning the Air

For more than a decade, we have been working on state and federal action that will get mercury pollution out of our waters and out of the fish we catch. Our efforts focus on reducing mercury emissions from coal fired power plants, which are the single largest source of mercury emissions in the United States.

EPA Mercury Rule Protects the Health of Vulnerable Americans, Fish and Wildlife
In December 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued requirements to control mercury and other toxic air emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants – the largest unregulated industrial sources of hazardous air pollution in the United States. The new rules are the culmination of 10 years of work by the Izaak Walton League of America and partner groups to ensure EPA meets its obligations under the Clean Air Act to safeguard the health of all Americans and our natural resources.

Existing power plants release 48 tons of mercury into the air each year – a health hazard for children and women of childbearing age, in particular. In fact, many states have issued advisories warning women and children – and in some cases, all citizens – to avoid or limit their intake of freshwater fish because of the contamination problem. Mercury exposure also damages waterfowl and mammals that eat mercury-contaminated fish. In addition, coal- and oil-fired power plants emit enormous quantities of lead, arsenic, and other hazardous chemicals.

Power plants will be required to install pollution controls within three years. Seventeen states have already enacted mercury reduction requirements for power plants and many utilities are well on their way to complying with these standards. According to EPA, the economic benefits of this rule outweigh the costs by a ratio of up to 14 to 1. EPA estimates that lowering emissions would save up to $140 billion in annual health costs and prevent 17,000 premature deaths annually by 2016.

Under the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency was required to set limits for hazardous air pollutants from power plants by 2002, but this deadline passed with no action from EPA. The League and partner groups filed a lawsuit in 2004 and again in 2008 seeking an enforceable deadline for EPA to issue regulations with these limits. After several starts and stops, EPA agreed in 2009 to enter into a legal settlement that requires the agency to propose and adopt rules for hazardous air pollutants emitted from coal- and oil-fired power plants by late 2011. The regulations issued by EPA will drive down emissions of dangerous soot pollution that contributes to asthma, heart disease, and strokes as well as protect Americans from mercury and other hazardous chemicals.


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