The Dernogalizer

July 25, 2009

Reducing Mercury Emissions

Filed under: environment,National Politics — Matt Dernoga @ 1:43 am
Tags: , ,

A very well written editorial by the NY Times arguing that Lisa Jackson should issue a strong ruling under the Clean Air Act to regulate mercury emissions from coal plants.  Also a good reminder there’s plenty to dislike about coal power, not just carbon emissions.  Reposted below.

Mercury and Power Plants

Published: July 24, 2009

When it comes to the environment, Washington’s attention is fixed these days on the Congressional battle over legislation to control greenhouse gas emissions. But there are other pollutants — so-called ground level pollutants, as opposed to those that rise into the atmosphere — that also need urgent attention, starting with toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

For various reasons — mainly heavy industry lobbying — these emissions have escaped federal regulation, whereas mercury emissions from other sources like incinerators and cement kilns have not. But the prospects for regulating power plant emissions have greatly improved since President Obama came to town.

Lisa Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, has begun a rule-making process that could require some power plants to reduce mercury emissions by as much as 90 percent. The Government Accountability Office has just produced a report showing that such reductions are not only technologically possible but affordable — refuting industry’s longstanding claim that mercury controls would be too expensive.

This is good news for the environment and for consumers. Mercury is a toxin that has been found in increasingly high concentrations in fish and poses human health risks, including neurological disorders in children. The nation’s coal-fired power plants produce 48 tons of it a year, a little more than 40 percent of the total mercury emitted in the United States.

The Clinton administration talked about regulating mercury but failed to do it. The Bush administration issued a weak rule in 2006 that was struck down in federal court as not only inadequate but invalid.

The gist of the court’s argument was that the Clean Air Act clearly stipulates that power companies must install state-of-the-art, on-site pollution equipment at each plant to control toxic substances including mercury. The Bush plan would have allowed power companies to escape such controls by purchasing emissions “credits” from power plants in other parts of the country. A trading system can make very good sense for greenhouse gas emissions, which disperse widely into the atmosphere. But mercury tends to deposit locally, and the Bush approach would have done nothing to reduce the pollution of local lakes and streams.

Fortunately, 18 states have laws or regulations requiring mercury reductions at coal-fired power plants. And in four states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware — a number of plants have already deployed new control technologies. The G.A.O., which studied 25 boilers at 14 plants with advanced technologies, found that, in some cases, mercury emissions had been reduced by as much as 90 percent at an average cost of $3.6 million, or pennies a month on consumers’ electric bills.

That is a mere fraction of the cost of the equipment necessary to control other ground-level pollutants like sulfur dioxide, the acid rain gas. Ms. Jackson should issue a tough rule to control mercury, knowing that it is essential to protect Americans and that the power companies can certainly afford to do what is needed.


1 Comment »

  1. […] See more here: Reducing Mercury Emissions « The Dernogalizer […]

    Pingback by Reducing Mercury Emissions « The Dernogalizer | planets — July 25, 2009 @ 9:32 am | Reply

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