Mercury Emissions in Coal Power Plants

Recently, President Obama has been firm in enacting legislation to reduce mercury emissions in coal fired power plants. Tougher laws, and better and more advanced technologies have allowed previously outdated coal plants to be retrofitted to meet new requirements in the emissions standards. More specifically, though, the Obama administration has asked older power plants to reduce their mercury emissions by 90% over a time frame of 5 years which began last year. While this move hopes to inject new jobs and cash into the economy, there are some doubts over whether or not that will truly happen. The reliability of the coal-fired plants is also in question with the plants asking for more time to comply with the regulations. After a similar plan was thrown out during the Bush administration which was primarily voluntary, the White House is making it a requirement. 

The EPA estimates that about 50% of mercury deposits are from local sources while another 40% comes from external sources, namely Asia. Coal Plants are majorly responsible for these numbers and these raised mercury levels contribute to food poisoning as well as fish and wildlife contamination.

I believe these are very important first steps to take in reducing dangerous coal and carbon emissions into the atmosphere and help prevent our very sensitive environment from being damaged. Hopefully, though, our reliance on coal will slowly be lessened while renewable energies with firmly take a hold in the industry.




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One response to “Mercury Emissions in Coal Power Plants

  1. Thanks for posting such an interesting topic! In addition to the requirements for existing power plants to reduce their mercury emissions, the EPA recently updated its Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) for new power plants. The new mercury emissions increase the limit from 0.002 lb/GWh set in 2011 to 0.003 lb/GWh. (1) The previously proposed levels were under scrutiny from industry citing technology was not available to reach such a low level. In fact, several utility companies have united together, asking for a repeal of this legislation, believing the regulations for new power plants will ‘endanger grid reliability by forcing the shutdown and retirements of several coal-fired power plants’. (1) Several plans for power plants have been put on hold while waiting for appeals.

    I agree with your statement that the mercury emissions will lessen our reliance on coal, but I worry about the impact and how quickly the change will occur. In a survey performed by Duke University, if current power plants were updated to meet the mercury standards, approximately 2/3 of current coal power plants will become as costly or more than natural gas plants to run. (2) The coal industry is citing an ‘unfair disadvantage’, since natural gas producers have significantly less emissions through production. If such a large transition from coal to natural gas were to occur, significant pipeline and infrastructure will need to be built. And seeing how fast the Keystone pipeline is being built, I’m wondering if the US will meet such a demand quickly? I’m interested to see how power plants will meet the mercury standards. Some plants in Illinois are already responding to the changes by investing significant capital costs, while some of the older plants are lagging behind the mercury emissions. (3) It will be interesting to see the responses to Obama’s MATS.


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