The EPA seal (Pic via sentryjournal.com)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce the finalization of the first-ever nationwide standards for mercury pollution from power plants today. The announcement will be made in a Washington, D.C., area hospital at 2 p.m. Florida currently ranks 15th in the nation for mercury pollution (.pdf) from power plants, and the Everglades currently has the highest levels in the state.

The regulation is the most expensive order being considered by the administration, and was formally signed by the EPA earlier this month. Many coal-reliant power producers have urged the EPA to give companies an additional year to comply with the new rules.

More on today’s announcement, via Bloomberg Businessweek:

The EPA says the standard would save lives and create 9,000 more jobs than would be lost, as power plants invest billions of dollars to install pollution scrubbing systems or build cleaner natural-gas plants. It estimates the regulation could prevent 17,000 premature deaths from toxic emissions.

The EPA proposal incorporates three separate limits: one for mercury, a second for acid gases and a third for particulate matter, which is used to target emissions of metals such as chromium, selenium and cadmium. Taken together, the health and economic benefits from cleaning up pollution will dwarf the costs to industry, according to the agency’s analysis.

Mercury in South Florida has caused major problems for the ecology and diversity of the Everglades. Coupled with sulfate (an agent used by agriculture in fertilizers and to control algal blooms), mercury becomes methylmercury — a substance that drastically alters the reproductive hormones of wading birds and even the endangered Florida panther.

As previously reported by The Florida Independent, one study conducted in the Everglades found that the ibis population was declining in large part due to altered mating habits — a direct result of mercury consumption. Mercury not only affected the ibis’ courtship habits, but also altered hormones, which led to a high percentage of male birds mating with other males. This particular study was the first that documented mercury’s effects on a bird’s sexual preference.

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