Keith Harley


The effort to establish national standards to control mercury air pollution from coal-fired power plants now spans twenty years, four presidential administrations, and remains undone. This note will briefly describe the failed twenty-year effort to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. It will show how United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) efforts during the (first) Bush and Clinton Administrations to construct mercury regulations were dismantled during the Administration of George W. Bush. During the second Bush Administration, U.S. EPA substituted a new regulatory approach that was ultimately repudiated by the federal judiciary as plainly inconsistent with the Clean Air Act. The Obama Administration now proposes to initiate yet another rulemaking process, but acknowledges final regulations will not be issued until the end of 2011 at the earliest. In the absence of federal standards, some states attempted state-specific requirements to control mercury from coal-fired power plants, but with limited success. Consequently, after twenty years of regulatory attention, most coal-fired power plants continue to emit mercury without legal restriction.