The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday issued stiff new rules for limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from the nation's power plants, but will give utilities up to four years to comply.
"By cutting emissions that are linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses like asthma, these standards represent a major victory for clean air and public health — and especially for the health of our children," EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson said Wednesday in issuing the final standards.
The new rules, previously issued in draft form, already have hastened the closure of many older power plants such as State Line Energy, in Hammond, which is slated to close in March. That plant is owned by Dominion Resources Inc.
NIPSCO, with three coal-fired generating stations, is in the middle of installing $580 million in scrubbers to clean up smokestack emissions at its Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield and plans a similar project at its Michigan Generating Station in Michigan City.
The two projects mean that within a few years emissions at all of NIPSCO's coal-fired electric generating units will be scrubbed for a wide range of pollutants, a process that should bring it largely into compliance with the final rules issued Wednesday by the EPA, according to Kelly Carmichael, NiSource director of environmental policy and permitting.
The scrubbers, some in place since the 1990s, can eliminate up to 90 percent of mercury discharges, Carmichael said.
"We feel we are in a very good position to meet those requirements," Carmichael said.
The utility will be examining the rules issued Wednesday to see if any further projects are necessary, particularly when it comes to heavy metals such as lead and arsenic that are carried on fine soot particles, Carmichael said.
NIPSCO has 457,000 electric customers in northern Indiana.
With any new projects, the utility will seek to balance enviromental protections with impacts on customer bills, NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer said. Environmental upgrades such as those going on at Schahfer are generally paid for by surcharges called "trackers" embedded in bills.