The Environmental Protection Agency is on the verge of proposing a new rule limiting emissions of mercury, arsenic and other toxics emitted by the nation’s coal-burning power plants.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, the new clean air regulatory proposal is expected to be completed by the agency today and officially announced on Monday. It has been more than 20 years in the making, fighting long-running opposition from coal-burning utilities over the cost of installing pollution control equipment.

The new rule, based on a draft version that came out in March, would give companies three years to reduce emissions of mercury and about 70 other toxic substances, although utilities could stretch out the process with appeals. Much of industry has argued that the deadline is too tight and could lead to power blackouts.

Air pollution politics figures to be a major challenge for President Obama in his 2012 re-election campaign. As Bloomberg reports,  the coal industry already has launched a huge lobbying and advertising campaign to thwart his administration’s efforts to reduce mercury emissions from coal.

At the same time, the president and the EPA will have supporters. The American Lung Association — with the backing of Chesapeake Energy Corp., a big natural gas drilling company and coal competitor — is bringing out ads in favor of the new air-quality proposal.

Also, as Politico reports, the EPA will enlist former pro football great Jerome Bettis to knock down the opposition. The one-time Pittsburgh Steelers running back, known as “the Bus,” was in Washington on Thursday to meet with EPA head Lisa Jackson and to film a public service announcement pointing out power plant pollution hazards. Politico said Bettis, who was diagnosed with asthma at age 15, has long championed improved air quality.

The EPA estimates that its new air quality requirements for power plants would prevent up to 11,000 heart attacks, 17,000 premature deaths and 120,000 cases of childhood asthma annually.


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