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Mercury Rising? Not Really.
Amid its recent regulatory blitz on domestic energy production, the Environmental Protection Agency has launched an aggressive campaign targeting coal fire power plants through the regulation of mercury emissions. While it is impossible to refute the seriousness of mercury contamination and exposure, the scope of mercury emissions in the United States and the consequences of impending EPA action must be called into question.
Late last year the EPA finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule that will require power plant emissions of mercury and other pollutants to be below a certain level within a period of four years, with even stricter timelines for the commencement of emissions testing at power facilities. Many industry leaders have raised a great deal of concern over the finalization and implementation of these standards. The relatively short compliance timetable aside, conservative estimates yield market social costs of these standards at nearly $10 billion annually. These costs will not only drive up energy costs for American businesses and households but will also endanger electricity reliability as astronomically expensive upgrades to comply with MATS force companies to retire numerous facilities across the country meeting the arbitrary standards that are unilaterally imposed by the EPA will create a strain on the US economy increasing unemployment in the energy sector and forcing businesses to shut their doors because of skyrocketing energy costs. Despite these heavy sacrifices, the health of the environment and the average US citizen will reap only an infinitesimal reward.
The EPA has stated that the goal of MATS is to reduce the amount of mercury emitted by US power plants by 90 percent. So how much of a difference would a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions make? According to data from the United Nations and the US Chamber of Commerce, in 2005, US anthropogenic (human activity related) mercury emissions totaled about 105 tons. A 90 percent reduction would mean an annual release of about 10.5 tons total. When compared to global anthropogenic emissions in 2005, The EPA’s goal amounts to reducing global emissions by .045 percent. Even the 105 tons emitted by the United States in 2005 is only about .0003 percent of the amount of mercury in the world’s oceans, most of which is believed to be naturally occurring.
While the EPA struggles to rid the world of less than one half of a tenth of a percent of annual human mercury emissions, the US economy will hemorrhage billions of dollars and thousands of jobs.