U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials estimated the proposal, if finalized, would create $59 billion in benefits a year by 2016, while costing industry $10.9 billion per year.
EPA said its proposal -- aimed at setting the first-ever national standard for toxic air pollution from electrical-generating plants -- would also help create 31,000 short-term construction jobs and 9,000 long-term utility jobs.
"Today's announcement is 20 years in the making, and is a significant milestone in the Clean Air Act's already unprecedented record of ensuring our children are protected from the damaging effects of air toxic pollution," said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. "With the help of existing technologies, we will be able to take reasonable steps that will provide dramatic protections to our children and loved ones, preventing premature deaths, heart attacks and asthma attacks."
Environmental and public health groups embraced the EPA proposal, which was the result of a lawsuit filed after the Bush administration scuttled plans to set the new standards for hazardous air pollutants.
"Power plants are unrivaled sources of toxic air pollution, releasing thousands of tons of dozens of dangerous hazardous air pollutants such as mercury, lead and dioxins into our air and our communities," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew, who argued the case for citizen groups. "This positive step is what America needs to improve our health and protect our environment, all while guaranteeing an overall savings in health costs."
Business groups said EPA is underestimating the proposal's costs and overstating its benefits in yet another rule focused on the coal industry.
"With this rule, coming on top of additional rules now pending at the agency, EPA could negate the positive contributions the coal-based utility sector has made to cleaner air and affordable and dependable electricity generation," said National Mining Association President Hal Quinn.