The agency announced long-anticipated rules Wednesday that critics say could lead to job cuts in the region.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (WSAZ) – The Environmental Protection Agency announced finalized, long-anticipated rules Wednesday aimed at reducing toxic emissions at coal-fired power plants and potentially reducing premature deaths.
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The new standards are expected to cut emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium and cyanide, according to the EPA. The agency points out more than half the country’s coal-fired plants are already using pollution controls that are working to cut these pollutants.
The move was met with swift criticism from the coal industry and West Virginia’s political leaders, who say the rules will lead to job losses and higher bills for consumers.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson went to a children's hospital outside Washington to emphasize the agency's new rule.
"This is a great victory for public health, especially for the health of our children," says Jackson, who said the rulemaking has been a 20-year process. "We're talking about young people who can go outside and be with their friends without the worry they'll have to struggle to breathe."
But, to come into compliance, companies like AEP are warning of job cuts and rate hikes.
This spring, the company detailed plans to close plants in Glasgow and Mason County, if proposed EPA regulations became reality. The plant in Louisa, Kentucky would be rebuilt as a natural gas plant.
"Too much too quick based on, what I think, are very arrogant opinions of what needs to be done," says West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney.
The agency said in a news release: “EPA estimates that the new safeguards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. The standards will also help America’s children grow up healthier – preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.”
Coal supporters say the EPA is overstepping and overstating the health impacts.
"It's overly dramatized, if you will. You can point to any study that you want to point to," says Raney.
Junior Walk, outreach coordinator of the group Coal River Mountain Watch, calls that statement “completely ridiculous.”
His group applauds the move.
“You can't put a price tag on human health, and that's the important thing. We need to be more worried about human health than we need to be worried about money," says Walk.
The EPA points out the announcement has been more than 20 years in the making, after Congress mandated the agency control toxic air pollutants in the 1990 Clean Air Act.
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has introduced a bill to try to give companies more time to come into compliance with the new regulations.
While many plants have already been cutting emissions, the rest have three years to come into compliance.