The Environmental Protection Agency's final rule that requires coal- and oil-fired power plants to reduce mercury and other toxic emissions was approved December 21, 2011, in Washington, DC Organizations that represent anglers, particularly Trout Unlimited, were welcomed by the decision.

Many of the coal-fired power plants in the eastern United States are found in the Ohio River Valley, and their emissions waft South on air particles and settle on the Appalachian Blue Ridge, including forests and trout streams in Virginia, North Carolina and northern Georgia .

Over years, those emissions basically turn freestone (limestone-base) streams acidic, no longer fit for aquatic life that trout must have to eat and survive. The emissions do not do much for drinking water either, plus mercury from power-plant emissions can build up in fish, making them unsafe to eat.

“This rule makes good sense and should result in significant reduction of mercury and other acid rain-producing toxins into the air,” said Steve Moyer, TU's vice president of government affairs, in a news release. “The EPA, in response to a court order to enforce the Clean Air Act and consider emissions technology as a way to reduce toxins in the country's air and water, has offered a reasonable road map for industry to follow in order to meet these requirements. ”

Its effects, however, will not be immediate.

The ruling allows the power industry three years to install emissions-reduction technology in its plants, with the option of applying for a fourth year if the technology can not be installed on time. It's almost a certainy few of the power plants that burn coal or oil will install “scrubbers” in a timely fashion because the costs are high. TU said a number of energy companies have taken significant steps to prepare for the new regulations.

Since 1959, TU volunteers and staff have worked to protect and restore trout watersheds through the nation, and realize fish – trout in particular – are barometers for air and water quality.

“Along the Eastern Seaboard, we've had to react to pollutants in the air that ever find their way into the water,” Moyer said. “For instance, eastern brook trout in some Appalachian mountain watersheds are particularly susceptible to pollution that alters the natural chemical balance in their native streams. these fish alive, including adding lime to some streams to restore the water's chemical equilibrium. ”

TU volunteers in Virginia and other eastern states have worked with researchers to document the fish-and-wildlife-habitat-destroying effects of acid rain. Acid rain also has been blamed for destroying high-altitude Blue Ridge conifers, especially pines and fir trees.

Studies have forced state and federal agencies to require cleaner emissions from power plants. In the Northeast, lakes and streams have made some progress in recovering from the impacts of acid rain following the enactment of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments. However, in the Southeast, where brook trout live only at high-elevation streams, some waters remain persistently acidic.

The new rule will require existing and new power plants to meet more stringent mercury-emissions rules.