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Federal limits on mercury will benefit New York

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken historic action to protect people's health by establishing the first-ever national standards for mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants. These standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution and support job creation and innovation. For New York residents, the standards will mean healthier air and cleaner lakes.

Toxic mercury in the air settles in lakes and streams. There, it changes to a form that is even more harmful to people's health. In New York, 80 water bodies, including the Hudson and Susquehanna rivers, Lake Champlain and rivers and lakes in the Adirondacks and the Catskills, contain fish so contaminated by mercury that people are warned to restrict their consumption.

Until now, there have been no federal limits on the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and certain acid gases that power plants could release into the air we breathe. These new standards will require cuts in how much of these dangerous pollutants power plants can emit. These toxic air pollutants have been linked to neurological problems, developmental disorders in children, respiratory illnesses and other debilitating, expensive and sometimes fatal health problems.

The new standards are also good for the economy. To meet the standards, many power plants will upgrade their operations with modern and widely available pollution control equipment. The increased demand for this equipment, which is manufactured primarily in the United States, will help American businesses that manufacture this type of pollution control equipment. And that's just the beginning. The EPA estimates 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term jobs will be created. Ralph Izzo, the chairman, CEO and president of New Jersey's largest utility company, recently stated, "No one disputes that mercury is harmful to human health or that the technology is available now to reduce mercury emissions dramatically. PSE&G invested $1.5 billion in our coal-fired power plants, reducing emissions of mercury and acid gases by 90 percent or more. Those projects created jobs for 1,600 construction workers and added permanent positions at our plants."

New York has been hard hit by out-of-state mercury pollution. Its power plants already control mercury emissions. But pollution from power plants outside New York is a major source of mercury and other toxics in the state's air and water. The 19 New York power plants affected by the new standards emit 259 pounds of mercury a year compared to the 4,000 pounds coming from 38 plants across the border in Pennsylvania. This illustrates the need for strong national standards.

We all have a stake in clean air, and the standards the EPA has adopted will have far-reaching benefits for millions of Americans for generations to come.

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Judith A. Enck is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's administrator for Region 2, which includes New York.