Prior posts have noted the numerous studies that support the view that emissions from a variety of sources, including automobiles, trucks, and power plants, have an adverse impact on the health of those exposed to such emissions. It is also fairly certain that one significant source of mercury contamination in the environment is from coal-fired power plants; the rough estimate is 1/3. See, for example, http://www.epa.gov/hg/exposure.htm and http://www.fossil.energy.gov/programs/powersystems/pollutioncontrols/overview_mercurycontrols.html.
In response to a court deadline, EPA has now proposed the first national standards for mercury, arsenic, and other toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants. The proposed regulations would require many power plants to install commonly used pollution control technologies to decrease emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases. EPA alleges that the regulations will prevent up to 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks per year; additionally, EPA states that the regulations will provide health benefits for children, preventing 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms and about 11,000 fewer cases of acute bronchitis among children each year. The proposed regulations are also projected to avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions and 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to illness. Incidentially, EPA notes that the regulations will support 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs.
EPA posits that the regulations will cost the industry around $10 billion (a figure in line with some industry estimates; other estimates are much higher), and provide benefits worth $100 billion. There seems to be some consensus that the rules will also result in the closing of a number of power plants for which it is not economic to come into compliance.
There will be a 60-day public comment period on the new regulations. If they are adopted, it is likely that the power industry will institute litigation to challenge their validity.
Details of the proposed regulations, including "fact sheets", can be found at http://www.epa.gov/airquality/powerplanttoxics/actions.html.