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EPA clamps down on coal plant emissions

December 13, 2013

Originally published Jan. 23, 2012

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released the first national standards for mercury and other toxic air emissions recently, a move that could prompt Georgia Power Co. to close some coal-burning generating units. The regulations will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year, the agency said in a news release, while preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 6,300 cases of acute bronchitis among children each year.

“These standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said. “[They] will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution and provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance.”

Electric utilities across the country have been bracing for the economic impact of national standards for mercury emissions.
The Georgia Public Service Commission is in the midst of hearings on an updated Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) filed by Georgia Power Co. last summer.

The plan contemplates closing two coal-fired electric generating units at the Atlanta-based utility’s Plant Branch near Milledgeville, Ga. Georgia Power officials also included in the IRP the possibility of installing expensive “baghouses” to reduce emissions at three coal-burning plants.

Executives with the power company said at the time that whether the utility goes through with the baghouse project would depend on the extent of the new federal regulations.

To give utilities flexibility in complying, the standards were accompanied by a memorandum from President Barack Obama directing the EPA to implement the new rules in a cost-effective manner that ensures electric reliability.

Besides the standard three-year compliance deadline, the EPA also is encouraging permitting authorities to give utilities a fourth year to complete necessary technological improvements.

Reprinted with permission from the Atlanta Business Chronicle