On December 21, 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its Final Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for Power Plants in what has been called one of the most important anti-pollution measures in recent memory by environmental groups and criticized by others who predict a strain on the nation’s power grid and lost jobs.
Under the new rules, EPA imposes strict new limits on the amount of mercury, acid gasses and other pollutants emitted by coal and oil-fired power plants. The new standards will impose numerical emission limits for all existing and future coal plants and propose a range of “widely available, technical and economically reasonable practices, technologies, and compliance strategies,” to meet the new demands.
By the agency’s own estimates, implementation of MATS will cost $9.6 billion, but EPA anticipates that healthcare costs will be reduced by between $59 billion and $140 billion by 2016 as a result of the rule, and that the new regulations will prevent 17,000 premature deaths each year. The agency does acknowledge the regulations will result in increased power grid strain: by its own estimate, 14.7 gigawatts of power supply—enough to power approximately 10 million households—will be eliminated from the domestic power grid when the rules take effect by 2015.