EPA Announces New Limits for Mercury Emissions
In an exciting announcement more than two decades in the making, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued a final rule limiting mercury and toxic air emissions from power plants. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was joined by community leaders and health professionals in announcing the rule today at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. I attended the announcement and could feel the room buzzing with excitement as Administrator Jackson took the podium to explain the new standards.
Following the announcement, Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the RAC, issued a statement praising the EPA’s actions: “As heirs to a tradition of stewardship tracing back to Genesis that teaches us to be partners in the ongoing work of Creation, it is our sacred duty as Jews to alleviate environmental degradation and the human suffering it causes. As such, we welcome the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxic Standards,” he said.
Mercury is a neurotoxin that is especially dangerous for pregnant women and developing fetuses, and can cause premature deaths in those exposed at a young age. This new rule sets a long-overdue improved national standard for limiting mercury, arsenic and other toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants, requiring power plants to reduce emissions within 3 years.
Holding power plants to higher air quality standards is not only good for our health and the health of our children; it benefits our economy, as well. Once in effect, the rule is projected to create 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 permanent utility jobs.
EPA has considered regulating mercury emissions since Congress approved amendments to the Clean Air Act in 1990, but the power industry has been able to delay a new EPA rule for more than two decades by claiming that higher standards will force layoffs or cause power outages. However, this is simply not the case: Paul Allen, senior vice president of Constellation Energy, represents just one of several executive voices from power companies who say that they welcome the rule as good for business modernization. “We don’t believe jobs will be destroyed, and we do think that it’s time to get on with this work,” Allen said.
We are proud that Rabbi Kevin Kleinman of Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania testified in front of a panel of EPA officials in support of the rule last May. The mandate for saving lives and environmental stewardship are core elements of our Jewish. We read in Midrash, “Do not corrupt or destroy my world; for if you corrupt it, there will be no one to set it right after you” (Kohelet Rabbah 7:13). The EPA’s action also resonates with two millennia of Jewish legal texts, as explicit limitations on airborne pollutants are set forth in Talmud and Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah.
As Americans and Reform Jews, we commend the EPA for setting new standards for mercury emissions and protecting the environment and health of our families and communities.
Image courtesy of Susan Paykin.