EPA Issues First Standards for Mercury and Air Toxics Pollution from Power Plants

  • By: Staff Editor
  • Date: December 21, 2011
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On December 16, 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued the first ever national standards aimed at reducing the emissions of toxic air pollutants from power plants. The EPA was required by the Clean Air Act of 2000 to formulate and enforce these standards.
The new standards, called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards or MATS, is expected to reduce emissions from new and existing coal and oil-fired electric utility steam generating units (EGUs).
The EPA has also revised the new source performance standards (NSPS) for fossil-fuel-fired EGUs. This NSPS revises the standards that new coal- and oil-fired power plants must meet for particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx).
Benefits of the new standards
The EPA said in a press release that the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year.
The MATS are apply to EGUs larger than 25 megawatts (MW) that burn coal or oil for the purpose of generating electricity for sale and distribution through the national electric grid to the public. These EGUs include those providing electricity for commercial, industrial and residential uses owned by:
  • Investors
  • The Federal Government
  • Municipalities
  • Cooperatives
The EPA estimates that around 1,400 units at 600 power plants will be affected by these standards, i.e.:
  • Approx. 1,100 existing coal-fired units
  • 300 oil fired units
Overview of MATS requirements
The new rule establishes the following:
  • Numerical emission limits for mercury, PM (a surrogate for toxic non-mercury metals), and HCl (a surrogate for all toxic acid gases) for all existing and new coal-fired EGUs
  • Numerical emission limits for PM (a surrogate for all toxic metals), HCl, and HF for all existing and new oil-fired EGUs
  • Alternative numeric emission standards, including SO2 (as an alternate to HCl), individual non-mercury metal air toxics (as an alternate to PM), and total non-mercury metal air toxics (as an alternate to PM) for certain subcategories of power plants.
  • Work practices, instead of numerical limits, to limit emissions of organic air toxics, including dioxin/furan, from existing and new coal- and oil-fired power plants.
  • Work practices for limited-use oil-fired EGUs in the continental U.S.
The standards also require power plants to employ widely available and economically feasible technologies, practices and compliance strategies to meet the emission limits. These include:
  • Wet and dry scrubbers,
  • Dry sorbent injection systems,
  • Activated carbon injection systems, and
  • Fabric filters.
Additional Resources
­­Read the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Pollution Standards for Power Plants in full.

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