Big Win for New Jersey’s Air: Pres. Obama & EPA Protect Public Health with Landmark Mercury Rule for Power Plants

For Immediate Release

Trenton – Today, President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the first-ever nationwide standard for mercury and air toxics pollution from power plants. A record 907,000 Americans submitted comments on the standard, which is expected to cut toxic mercury pollution from power plants by 91 percent.

“This is a huge win for New Jersey. Today President Obama stood up to the polluters and protected kids’ health,” said Doug O’Malley, field director with Environment New Jersey. “This landmark achievement reflects what every parent knows, which is that powering our homes should not poison New Jersey’s kids.”

Power plants are the largest single source of mercury pollution in the U.S., and exposure to mercury and other air toxics is linked to cancer, heart disease, neurological damage, birth defects, asthma attacks and premature death.  

New Jersey has always suffered from its geography in regards to air pollution. The state is down-wind of hundreds of Midwest power plants that emit thousands of pounds of mercury, compared to New Jersey’s emissions of less than 100 pounds using modern pollution control technology. 

Using Toxics Release Inventory data from the EPA, Environment New Jersey calculated that the combined Midwest (from OH, PA, IN, WV alone) power plant emissions of mercury in 2010 was 13,852 pounds. New Jersey’s emissions? 88 pounds. Pennsylvania emissions alone were 3,964 pounds.

“New Jersey has led the way in reducing mercury emissions. This is not pie-in-the-sky technology – we have been using these pollution controls for years. It’s time we brought out-of-state power plants out of the Eisenhower era and into the 21st century,” said O’Malley.

Right now, mercury pollution is so widespread that at least one in ten American women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her blood to put her baby at risk, should she become pregnant.  By limiting emissions of mercury and air toxics from power plants, the Obama administration’s new standard is expected to prevent 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and save 11,000 lives every year.

 Momentum for the new federal standard began with state-level standards in New Jersey and other states.  Such state-level action helped prove that significant cuts in mercury pollution were indeed possible.

“EPA’s proposed mercury standard will protect children and families from a known poison,” said O’Malley. “Senator Menendez and Senator Lautenberg deserve kudos for standing up for New Jersey’s families by supporting EPA’s much needed standard, and oppose efforts by polluters and their allies in Congress to delay or block EPA’s efforts.”

For decades, the coal industry, many utilities and their allies in Congress and past administrations have successfully delayed cutting mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants to protect public health, even though technology to control toxic air pollution is widely available, and already being used by power plants in New Jersey. 

Data that Environment New Jersey collected uses newly-released 2010 emissions data from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), which uses self-reported data from power plants and other facilities to track how much of a variety of toxic substances the facilities release into the air.  Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the country, with 2/3 of all airborne mercury pollution coming from these power plants. They emit mercury into our air, which then falls into our waterways with rain or snow, where it builds up in fish and enters the food chain. Even a small drop of mercury is enough to make the fish in a 25-acre lake unsafe to eat.   

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that harms growing children and pollutes our environment.   Mercury exposure can lead to irreversible deficits in verbal skills, damage to attention and motor control, and reduced IQ. 

As a result of widespread mercury contamination, every state in the country has issued an advisory warning against the consumption of species of fish that tend to have dangerous levels of mercury. In New Jersey, every waterway is under a mercury advisory.

“It’s abundantly clear that New Jerseyans and people across the country want cleaner air, healthier kids, and less toxic pollution spewed into our air, and thankfully, President Obama and EPA are taking action,” said O’Malley. “This landmark standard will improve New Jerseyans’ quality of life and protect children today and for generations to come from known poisons.”

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Environment New Jersey is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy group based out of Trenton, representing over 60,000 members and activists.
Mercury-Power-Plants-Report-Release-12.11.pdf Mercury-Power-Plants-Report-Release-12.11.pdf