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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Proposal, As Prepared

03/16/2011
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As prepared for delivery.

Today we are taking an important step forward in EPA’s efforts to safeguard the health of millions of Americans. I’m proud to announce that EPA is proposing the first ever national Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants. Under the Clean Air Act, these proposed standards will require American power plants to put in place proven and widely available pollution control technologies to cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases.

The suite of air toxics covered in the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are pollutants linked to neurological problems, developmental disorders in our children, respiratory illnesses and other debilitating, costly and often fatal health challenges. By proposing these standards, we are initiating an effort that – through the commonsense goal of reducing harmful pollution in the air we breathe – will save lives, prevent illnesses and promote vital economic opportunities in communities across the country. We are confident in these expectations because this has been the history of the Clean Air Act for forty years.

Most importantly, the Clean Air Act is literally a life saver. It prevents thousands of premature deaths each year – 160,000 of them in 2010 alone. Along with lives saved, the Clean Air Act has reduced asthma attacks, heart disease, and numerous other health conditions that burden American children and families. Last year it helped prevent more than 170,000 trips to the hospital.
We also know that protections in the Clean Air Act have brought trillions of dollars in benefits to our nation – not only by avoiding medical bills, but by keeping our kids in school and our workers on the job, increasing productivity and economic potential. They have also helped create jobs. As of 2008 the environmental technology industry – which develops, manufactures and sells the tools that help keep our air clean – supported more than 1.7 million American jobs. The innovation and use of cleaner products like catalytic converters and smokestack scrubbers has led to job growth in the installation, maintenance and operation of pollution control technology. These are good, labor-intensive jobs that can’t be shipped overseas.

Finally – the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air has made – and will make – a remarkable difference for countless Americans. That includes me and my family. My youngest son has battled asthma his whole life. He spent his first Christmas in the hospital struggling to breathe. Without the Clean Air Act protecting the air around our home, around his school, around our church and the places we have traveled, there is no telling how much more challenging his condition could have been. Like any parent of a child with asthma, I can tell you that the benefits of the Clean Air Act – and protections like the ones we are proposing today – are not just statistics and abstract concepts. This law has changed millions of lives for the better, and is a banner example of public policy that serves the people of this nation.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards being proposed today are designed to build on the success of the Clean Air Act. As I said, we are proposing the first-ever national standards for reducing mercury and these other toxics from power plants. There are currently no national standards limiting these emissions from America’s power plants – which are the source of half of the mercury emissions, half of the acid gases, and 25 percent of all toxic metal pollution in our air.

Like our other Clean Air Act protections, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are expected to provide broad benefits. First and foremost, there will be benefits to our health. Widespread adoption of pollution control technology will prevent an estimated 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks, while also preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and ensuring about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children. As you can see, this is especially good news for the young people with us today – the second graders who came here from Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in southwest Washington, DC. By reducing pollutants like mercury, we will reduce threats to their healthy development. We will help lower exposure to toxins that could put them and millions of American children at risk for neurological damage and other health challenges.
There will also be broad benefits for American workers. As we’ve seen with other health and environmental safeguards throughout our history, the implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics standards is expected to open opportunities for American workers. It will increase demand for pollution control technology and open opportunities for the workers tasked with installing, operating and maintaining that technology. We are estimating that these first-ever standards will support 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs.

The proposal and implementation of these standards will also have benefits for American utilities. For the first time in twenty years, they will have certainty about the standards they must meet. And setting national standards for mercury and air toxics will level the competitive playing field and close loopholes for big polluters. Utilities that have already put pollution control technology in place will no longer have to compete with those who have delayed those investments – a group that includes almost half of the nation’s coal-fired plants, which lack advanced pollution control equipment. In fact, facilities that have already taken responsible steps to reduce the release of toxins into our air will be at a competitive advantage over their heavy-polluting counterparts. And to ensure cost-effectiveness, we have proposed flexibility in meeting the standards. The technologies being required already exist in abundance, and under the proposal, power providers have four years to comply.

Let me close by saying that the success of this effort is underwritten by the broad coalition of advocates and stakeholders that support it. We have the support of environmentalists and health protection advocates – like President Connor and the people at the American Lung Association, which has been fighting for clean air for more than 100 years. Alongside them are members of the utility industry, who have been waiting two decades for this certainty, and are ready to get moving on multi-pollution planning, energy efficiency and clean tech investments. We also have the support of American workers – the women and men who will be put to work building, installing, maintaining and operating pollution controls. Finally, we are counting on the input of the American people. This proposal is followed by a public comment period. As we saw with our recent clean air initiative to cut emissions from industrial boilers, the public comment process can improve the cost-effectiveness of a rule without compromising the health protections – which are required under the Clean Air Act, and expected by the public.

Today’s announcement is 20 years in the making, and is a milestone in the Clean Air Act’s already unprecedented record of defending the health of American families. With the help of existing technologies, we will be able to take reasonable steps to protect our children and loved ones and prevent premature deaths, heart attacks and asthma cases. We look forward to getting to work. Thank you very much