Clean Air Act: Emerging Mercury Control Technologies Have Shown Promising Results, but Data on Long-Term Performance Are Limited

GAO-05-612 Published: May 31, 2005. Publicly Released: Jun 23, 2005.
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In March 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule that will limit emissions of mercury--a toxic element that causes neurological problems--from coal-fired power plants, the nation's largest industrial source of mercury emissions. Under the rule, mercury emissions are to be reduced from a baseline of 48 tons per year to 38 tons in 2010 and to 15 tons in 2018. In the rule, EPA set the emissions target for 2010 based on the level of reductions achievable with technologies for controlling other pollutants--which also capture some mercury--because it believed emerging mercury controls had not been adequately demonstrated. EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) coordinate research on mercury controls. In this context, GAO was asked to (1) describe the use, availability, and effectiveness of technologies to reduce mercury emissions at power plants; and (2) identify the factors that influence the cost of these technologies and report on available cost estimates. In completing our review, GAO did not independently test mercury controls. GAO provided the draft report to DOE and EPA for comment. DOE said that it generally agreed with our findings. EPA provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate.

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