America’s battle over coal and clean air

(By Deutsche Welle) The US Supreme Court this week ruled against a regulation limiting mercury emissions. The environmental and coal lobbies are gearing up for a battle over the White House’s Clean Power Plan, as Spencer Kimball reports.

Old king coal has seen better days.

Already under pressure from a boom in cheap natural gas, the industry has been pinched by the Obama administration’s push for stricter clean air standards. According to the Sierra Club, 195 coal-fired power plants are scheduled for retirement. That leaves 328 on America’s power grid.

A number of those plants have shut down due to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. In particular, a rule that aims to drastically reduce the 50 tons of mercury that coal-fired power plants emit into America’s air every year.

Some of that mercury ultimately settles in bodies of water, contaminating fish that in turn are consumed by people. All 50 states have bodies of water with advisories warning people against fishing due to mercury contamination. A brain toxin, mercury is particularly dangerous for fetuses and breast-feeding children who can be exposed to the heavy metal through the mother’s body.

According to the US Supreme Court, the goal of reducing these health hazards must be weighed against what it costs for the industry to comply with the regulation. Compliance often requires shelling out $250 million (224 million euros) for clean-up equipment. That’s a death knell for many coal-fired plants older than 40.

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