Obama administration plans to reduce mercury emissions

The Obama administration on Friday proposed reducing mercury emissions by more than 50% from industrial boilers, process heaters and solid waste incinerators by December.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the plan would yield at least $18 billion worth of health benefits annually and prevent as many as 5,200 premature deaths and about 36,000 asthma attacks a year. The EPA estimates it would cost $3.6 billion to install and maintain pollution controls at the estimated 200,000 units across the country.

Facilities with boilers also would be required to conduct energy audits to look for cost-effective ways to reduce fuel use and emissions. Smaller facilities, such as schools with smaller boilers, would not be subjected to these requirements, but would have to perform tune-ups every two years.

“Strong cuts to mercury and other harmful emissions will have real benefits for our health and our environment, spur clean technology innovations and save American communities billions of dollars in avoided health costs,” EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said in a statement.

Environmental groups, which three years ago blocked attempts by the George W. Bush administration to deregulate toxic emissions from industrial incinerators, boilers and process heaters, praised the EPA for this proposal. The plan is expected to attract significant opposition from some states and industrial groups during public hearings before it is finalized.