In the United States, the EPA is proposing to regulate emissions of mercury and other toxic substances from coal and oil fired electrical plants. Grist has posted an article that discusses the background of this proposed regulation in more detail.
Proponents of the action argue that there is a technological capability to meet the new standards, the new standards are justified on a cost-benefit test, and the action protects human health and the environment (more detail here).
Commentators from the right of the spectrum question the justification of the regulation because the anticipated benefits are not directly linked to a reduction in emissions of mercury. From a broader policy perspective, there is some concern that command-and-control regulations are more expensive than a cap-and-trade approach.
As a society, we are in real danger of focusing on very smallrisks if they become salient political issues. The regulation ofmercury emissions from power plants is one such example. Weare likely to spend billions of dollars on reducing mercury emissions from power plants and getting very modest, if any,improvements in IQ scores in return
While some may question the need for more stringent regulation of power plant emissions, I think it can be agreed by most that this is a legitimate issue for the EPA to tackle. Clean air, clean water and healthy land are worthy objectives. Hopefully these regulations are grounded in reference to those objectives instead of a dogmatic stance that coal is evil and must be eliminated as a source of energy.