Friday, December 14, 2007

With China Over Our Shoulder Can We Find Our Way To Clean Air?

The statistics are mind boggling the growth is enormous, the pace of China's industrialization is simply overwhelming, it has the momentum of a tsunami! What can we and the rest of the world do to cope with it? Do our efforts at pollution prevention pale when we look west and see clouds of industrial gases pouring over the Pacific? Air pollution is only one aspect of the Big C and we are the primary pump sucking all their efforts, good and bad, off shore.

Mercury emissions are my focus, China is a player! In fact they are the big player at the end of the table with the big pile of chips. My bet is they will first dwarf our efforts to reduce mercury emissions, but if the technology here succeeds, and I think it will, they will quickly adopt and be a good steward too. Same with CO2, they will move fast and benefit from technological advancements to "clean up their act" after they achieve some level of economical catch-up. The bet we are all hoping comes through is it won't be too late.

I loved this article in Discover Magazine by Evan Ratliff. Only a small portion dealt with mercury directly, but the industrial movement, well underway in China, is nothing to ignore. An excerpt follows;

...The blowups over tainted products, however, overshadowed landmark news regarding a far more dangerous Chinese export: pollution. Back in 2000, China’s economic planners boldly predicted that the country would double its energy usage by 2020. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in turn, estimated that China would surpass the United States as the world’s leading emitter of carbon dioxide by that same year. Propelled by a decade of blistering growth unfettered by environmental regulations, China managed to hit its energy usage goal in 2007, 13 years ahead of schedule. And depending on whose estimates you accept, the country has already taken the carbon-dioxide emissions crown.

Given that China is home to 20 percent of the planet’s population and a burgeoning, ever more consuming middle class, it’s not surprising that the country’s footprint on the environment is growing. What is shocking is the extent to which that footprint is stomping not just China’s ecology but that of the rest of the planet.

China has become the leading importer of illegally harvested timber. It is the global hub for endangered wildlife trafficking. The Chinese are the world’s largest consumers of grain, meat, coal, and steel. And China is feeding its appetites for those commodities—and increasingly for oil—by investing in resource extraction in less-developed areas like Africa. Even in a government not prone to harsh self-evaluation, a top Chinese environmental official pronounced ominously last year that the pollution crisis at home “allows for no optimism.”

The statistics are staggering. Fourteen thousand new cars hit the road each day, and by the year 2020, China is expected to have 130 million cars. Meanwhile, about 70 percent of China’s nontransportation energy comes from burning 3.2 billion tons of coal each year. The nation is building coal-fired power plants—one of the dirtiest forms of energy production—at a clip of two to three a week. China is also home to 5 of the 10 most polluted cities on the planet, according to China’s own State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA)—including the major coal-mining city of Linfen, the most polluted city in the world. The World Bank estimated in early 2007 that air pollution alone causes at least 700,000 premature deaths in China annually.

The impact of all this extends far beyond China’s borders. Taken as a group, its coal-fired power plants emit the world’s highest levels of sulfur dioxide (a major element of acid rain) and mercury, both of which rise high into the atmosphere and hitch a ride on air currents circling the globe. One study, published last year in the Journal of Geophysical Research, calculated that three-quarters of the black carbon pollution in the atmosphere over the western United States originates in Asia. It is estimated that as much as 35 percent of all the mercury pollution in the western United States comes from abroad, and China is most likely the main culprit. According to the World Wildlife Fund, untreated waste has turned China’s Yangtze River basin into the single largest polluter of the Pacific Ocean. “There’s no doubt,” says Elizabeth Economy, director of Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, “that what China is doing on the domestic front has an enormous effect on the globe.”

Within China, the devastation is more intense. One-third of its land has been hit by acid rain, according to the head of SEPA. One hundred ten of its cities are short of water. Available water is so polluted that nearly 700 million Chinese citizens drink from supplies contaminated by human and animal excrement.

The conventional wisdom has long held that China is merely following the path of the United States and other developed countries that polluted—and in some cases, continue to do so—on their way to a wealthier populace and eventual stricter environmental controls. But the epic pace of China’s development could spawn an ecological catastrophe of a different order. “What China is facing in terms of environmental challenges,” Economy says, “is not comparable to anything we have faced in this country.”

There is some hope though, as I said they are pretty quick to adapt and the masses want changes in environmental conditions in China.

Some nongovernmental organizations in China have been pushing for reform over the last decade. Members of these grassroots outfits, often operating at the risk of arrest or harassment, press for environmental improvements through public demonstrations and the limited legal action allowed. “On the positive side, you have demonstrations, you have marches, you have hundreds of thousands of people writing letters to complain about pollution and request that something get done about it,” says Economy. “On the other hand, you also have citizen activism such that when Beijing said we are going to shut down the factories in advance of the Olympics, factory managers are coming back and saying no.”

The good news is that overhauling outdated technology might easily rein in the devastating pollution. Much of China’s industry uses energy-guzzling equipment from the 1970s, and the NRDC estimates that by using existing technology and enforcing simple building codes, the country could cut its energy demands by half or more in the next decade.

“There is no other country in the world as dynamic and rapidly changing as China,” observes Alex Wang, an NRDC attorney who directs the council’s China Environmental Law Project in Beijing. “It really is a country where things can be dramatically different from one day to the next.”

Just as quickly as China became the world’s leading polluter, it could find a greener path to development. But if it fails, the outcome will be more than just a public relations nightmare.

A Year Later Our First Day In Court - Health Groups and States Appeals Finally Being Heard

As Hg-ATME reported almost a year ago, major health organizations challenged EPAs rules on mercury emissions. That challenge, joined now by as many as 14 States, several Tribes and numerous Environmental Groups is finally having its voices heard in Federal Appeals Court in Washington D.C. As reported by the PRNewswire - USNewswire and picked up by Forbes on Dec 6th;

Fourteen states and dozens of Native American tribes, public health and environmental groups, and organizations representing registered nurses and physicians appeared in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today seeking to overturn Bush administration proposals that evade legally required cuts in mercury pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants (Case No.: 05-1097). The broad coalition called for the complete reversal of a suite of Environmental Protection Agency rules, including the so-called "Clean Air Mercury Rule," which allows dangerously high levels of mercury pollution to persist under a weak cap-and-trade program that would not take full effect until well beyond 2020.
[...]
The following joint statement can be attributed to the American Nurses Association; the American Public Health Association; Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Clean Air Task Force; Conservation Law Foundation; Earthjustice; Environment America (formerly US PIRG); Environmental Defense; National Wildlife Federation; Natural Resources Council of Maine; Natural Resources Defense Council; Ohio Environmental Council; Physicians for Social Responsibility; Sierra Club; and Waterkeeper Alliance:

"These rules are simply illegal. Despite mercury pollution's significant impacts on human health and the environment, EPA has ignored science, law and human health in allowing coal-fired power plants to churn out dangerous mercury levels. Rather than applying the toughest standards of the Clean Air Act, EPA has proposed an ineffective mercury trading scheme that delays implementation of modern pollution controls for years. EPA has created an illegal loophole for the power generating industry that allows for dangerous emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants now and into the future.

"Power plants spew 48 tons of mercury into the air each year, yet a mere 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury per year is enough to contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point that fish are unsafe to eat. EPA estimates that as many as 600,000 babies may be born annually with irreversible brain damage because pregnant mothers ate mercury-contaminated fish. Mercury risks also include delayed developmental milestones, reduced neurological test scores, and cardiovascular disease. Nearly one-third (32 percent) of America's lakes and nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of our rivers were subject to advisories for mercury contamination in 2003.

"Congress recognized the importance of cleaning up the nation's polluting coal-fired power plants when it passed clean air protections, but the EPA has repeatedly failed to carry out the law and follow the science in protecting human health and the environment from mercury pollution. In this instance, EPA has finalized a plan first drafted by industry attorneys that violates the law and fails to protect human health. We are grateful to have had our day in court to demonstrate EPA's failure to adopt protective mercury emission standards for coal plants as required by law."

And the story was also picked up in USA Today where we get these excerpts;

A Bush administration plan to limit mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants is legal and should not be overturned, a government lawyer said in federal court Thursday.

But two of the three appellate court judges reviewing a lawsuit against the plan appeared skeptical of that argument from Justice Department attorney Eric Hostetler.
[...]
The rule is being challenged by a coalition of environmental groups, 14 states and a number of Native American tribes. They argue that the EPA's plan violates the 1990 Clean Air Act and lets power plants continue emitting mercury in amounts that pose health hazards to humans and animals.

James Pew, an attorney for Earthjustice, called the rule "unlawful."

In 2000, during the Clinton administration, the EPA said coal-burning power plants should be required to use the most high-tech, effective emissions controls available (MACT) to reduce mercury emissions.

During the Bush administration, EPA officials reversed course, saying the original decision didn't account for reductions in mercury emissions that would occur as power plants installed controls aimed at other air pollutants. (What?)

"EPA is acting to correct a mistake," Hostetler said.

Judges David Tatel and Judith Rogers of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia questioned Hostetler closely on whether the EPA followed procedures outlined in Clean Air Act amendments passed 17 years ago by a Congress that was frustrated with the agency's slow pace.

"Just because an agency made a decision doesn't mean it's lawful," Tatel said.

It could be months before the appellate judges issue a decision on the lawsuit. If the judges overturn the EPA's emissions credits rule, the agency would have to adopt tougher regulations limiting mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants. That likely would lead to a legal challenge from the electric utility industry.

So this fight is far from over. But at least it is getting underway. I found some more interesting points on this suit from The Institute for Southern Studies;

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility are going to court today to present their legal challenge to the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Mercury Rule -- which despite its name actually exempts power plants from tough Clean Air Act requirements to control the harmful neurotoxin.

The groups -- which together represent more than 300,000 health professionals -- are being represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center. They are joining attorneys general from 14 states (though none in the South), a dozen national environmental groups and several Indian tribes that are also challenging the rule, which was released in May 2005.

"This challenge represents unprecedented legal action by these public health groups, an indication of how severe doctors, nurses and pediatricians and other health workers know the threat of mercury emissions to be," says SELC attorney John Suttles. "With this rule, the EPA not only ignored the requirements of the Clean Air Act, it also ignored the advice of thousands of health experts, choosing a clean up plan that does too little, too late to be protective of public health."

While Clean Air Act requirements would rid the nation of 90 percent of mercury emissions by the end of next year, CAMR would allow power plants to continue to emit much more mercury for much longer -- nearly 20 tons every year until 2025. At the same time, EPA would allow plants to use a cap-and-trade scheme where they could trade mercury pollution credits with other, less-polluting plants. That would create mercury "hot spots" that could lead to dangerous levels of human exposure.

Hg-ATME will continue to cover these proceedings, it is hard to imagine an outcome that would not support the plaintiffs here, but we have all been surprised before. This news broke earlier in December while I was busy with other matters, it deserved more immediate coverage by this outlet but all I can say is better late than never.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Some Nevada Mining Reports Open Eyes On Extent Of Mercury Emissions

As Hg-ATME has reported (several Nevada Posts are here) Nevada began cracking down on gold mining operations in the state, requiring testing to actually determine the levels of mercury being emitted. Heretofore the amounts were only estimated by the mines, and estimated quite poorly I might add. From Yubanet.com an excerpt from a recent article;

New emissions data, obtained from the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection (NDEP), show that northern Nevada gold mines are still under-reporting substantial amounts of mercury air pollution. It also reveals that a number of mines that were previously considered small sources of mercury air pollution are actually very large sources, yet these mines have few pollution controls in place. Until 2006, mines were not required to actually measure mercury releases, only estimate mercury emissions.
[...]
"We now know that hundreds of pounds of mercury are needlessly going into our air from mines that have minimal controls in place," said John Hadder of Great Basin Mine Watch. "This new information is a wake-up call. We want the State and industry to agree to get controls in place right away."

Under Nevada's new mercury regulations, the four largest mercury polluters were prioritized as "Tier 1" mines and all the smaller emitters as "Tier 2" mines based on information available at the time. The new emissions data, however, reveals that a number of the Tier 2 mines are actually large sources of mercury air pollution. For example:

* The Florida Canyon mine submitted no mercury pollution reports to the EPA for the last eight years, yet the new information indicates that the mine is a large source of emissions, reporting 440 pounds of emissions in a 2006 report to NDEP.

* The Rawhide Mine submitted reports to the EPA of just 0-1 pound of emissions for each of previous 8 years, yet it reported 351 pounds of emissions to NDEP in 2006. The mine is currently winding down operations.

Other "Tier 2" mines that are now reporting large emissions include the Newmont Lone Tree mine at 622 pounds and the Glamis Gold mine at 1,010 pounds in 2006.

And this added information from Desert News below;

An employee at the Florida Canyon mine referred questions to mine manager Martin Price, who was not immediately available for comment.

The Rawhide mine is owned by Utah-based Kennecott, a subsidiary of the international conglomerate Rio Tinto.

Rio Tinto spokesman Louie Cononelos said he could not comment until hearing back from Rawhide officials.

Mark Amodei, president of the Nevada Mining Association, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

The three environmental groups gave the two mines a 60-day notice of their intent to sue over alleged failure to report mercury emissions as required under federal law.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

US House Votes to Ban Mercury Export, But Wait, White House Opposes

And so it goes. Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine, proposed a bill that would ban the export of highly toxic mercury and force federal agencies to find permanent storage facilities for their stockpiles. This House vote on H.R. 1534 was so unanimous it carried on a voice vote. Sens. Barack Obama, D-IL, and Lisa Murkowski, R-AK, have introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

But even with bi-partisan support the Bush White House opposes the measure. From the AP article below;

The White House said in a statement that an export ban might lead to more mining and an increase in the release of mercury into the environment.

I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but that makes no sense to me. How could banning the availability of the substance used in mining gold lead to more mining and an increase of mercury emissions? Someone explain that rationale to me, please.

Bangkok Conference Focuses On Global Mercury Agreement, Will USA Sign On Or Kyotoize It?

The Open-Ended Working Group on global mercury issues is currently meeting in Bangkok. The need for a global agreement to combat the spread of the toxic chemical in our environment has been discussed and mostly agreed upon. Hg-ATME has said many times that mercury emissions are a global issue and no one nation can solve the problem alone. We can set good examples for others to follow but without a global approach countries that restrict mercury use and emissions will eventually reach their capacity to effect the change and further reductions will have to come from somewhere else.

Hey, doesn't that sound like the Governors and Senators from New England and New York describing their situation with the Midwest? Its funny how we are all downwind of someone and mercury emissions travel around the globe so only a global approach will work.

From ENN.com an excerpt from their conference coverage is below;

UNEP is urging governments, working with industry and civil society, to begin setting "clear and ambitious targets" to get global mercury levels down and to set the stage for mercury-free products and processes world-wide.

Such targets might include:

- an agreement to phase-out mercury from products and processes, such as in the manufacture of medical equipment and in chlorine factories, with an aim of realizing mercury-free products by 2020.


- Reductions in emissions from coal-fired power stations with the additional benefits of reduced greenhouse gases and improved local air quality.


- Support for initiatives like those of the UN Industrial and Development Organization which has a goal to cut by 50 per cent the use of mercury in artisanal mining by 2017 en route to a total phase-out


"The global public has been watching and waiting for action-it is now time to start delivering it. This meeting, aimed at narrowing the options and resolving outstanding concerns, comes against a background of worries over rising levels of mercury emissions and releases in several key areas" said Mr Steiner.


UNEP's flagship report-the Global Environment Outlook-4-launched last month states that that coal burning and waste incineration account for about 70 per cent of the total quantified emissions of mercury.


"As combustion of fossil fuels is increasing, mercury emissions can be expected to increase, in the absence of control technologies or prevention," says the GEO-4, the peer reviewed work of well over 1,000 scientists and experts.


And some additional coverage by the Environmental News Service below;


One of the world's thousands of coal-burning power plants.
This one is in Selangot, Malaysia.
(Photo courtesy Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries)


Governments need to accelerate the effort to deliver an international agreement on mercury, said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, UNEP.

Steiner said scientists have been warning about the dangers to human health, wildlife and the wider environment for more than a century. But still, every person alive today is thought to have at least trace levels of the heavy metal in their tissues.


Mercury is linked with a wide range of health effects including irreversible damage to the human nervous system including the brain and scientists have concluded there is no safe limit when it comes to mercury exposure.


It is true that many countries have, in recent decades, taken steps to reduce mercury uses and releases and to protect their citizens from exposure to this toxic heavy metal. However, the fact remains that a comprehensive and decisive response to the global challenge of mercury is not in place and this needs to be urgently addressed," said Steiner.


"There is no real reason to wait on many of the mercury fronts. Viable alternatives exist for virtually all products containing mercury and industrial processes using mercury," he said.

These global efforts have been tried before with big issues like global warming, but if major contributors like the US do not support them they have little chance of success. The Kyoto protocol is a good example. Some in the US are on board with these issues. My next post talks about just some of those efforts.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Big Mercury Meeting In Bangkok

A News Release from the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) in their Earth Negotiations Bulletin announces the meeting lasting Nov 12 - 16, 2007, In Bangkok, Thailand.

The First Meeting of the Ad hoc Open-ended Working Group (OEWG) to Review and Assess Measures to Address the Global Issue of Mercury begins today at the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.

The OEWG is expected to review and assess options for enhanced voluntary measures, and new or existing international legal instruments on mercury. The meeting is also expected to consider the Analysis of Possible Options to Address the Global Challenges to Reduce Risks from Releases of Mercury report.

I'm sure there will be some interesting discussions over Pad Thai and Singha. I will try to keep everyone up to date on what is discussed. I am not in Thailand for the conference. But you can follow the proceedings yourself at this link.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Northeast States Continue To Tout Their Leadership On Mercury Emissions and Slam the Midwest

It is probably because I am from Illinois that it irks me so much to read the articles day after day coming from the New England States and New York claiming they can do no more on Mercury Emissions in their own States, its up to the midwest if we are goingt to achieve our Clean Water goals.

As far as leadership goes, several Midwest States have stepped up to the challenge and legislated some of the toughest mercury emission laws in the country with compliance dates much sooner than most others. Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan have really done their part. It just doesn't feel right for the Northeast States to keep harping on the Midwest. Face it, the Federal EPA screwed up and left it to individual States to get tough, some have and others haven't.

I agree Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee, 5 States with a lot of coal fired units, could have done better, in most cases they have done nothing. But don't come down on Illinois or Minnesota, both passed mandatory 90% reductions across the State, no trading, by 2010. And many Midwest States are signatories to the case against the USEPA working its way through Federal courts now.

The Northeast Governors and Senators are asking the Feds to get tough and that is good, but we should have a National standard that achieves the goal for all States and all US citizens.

This excerpt from All American Patriots;

U.S. Senators Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), John Sununu (R-N.H.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Stephen Johnson this week to approve the Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load cleanup plan. As part of the plan, the region requires enhanced federal guidelines for mercury pollution coming into the Northeast from other parts of the country.

In recent years, the Northeastern states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York have drastically reduced mercury pollution from in-state power plants. Yet the region fails to meet current EPA guidelines because of the mercury pollution brought in from neighboring states. Today’s letter follows a similar plea made recently by the governors of the Northeastern states.

“The Northeastern states, including Maine, continue to be at end of the tailpipe of mercury- spewing coal-fired power plants in the Midwest,” said Snowe. “Maine has led the way in reducing mercury emissions within the state, but we must see strong action on the part of the EPA to reduce mercury emissions that enter our state from sources in other states. The petition from the region clearly identifies that our State simply can not do anything more. The lax approach by EPA in regards to our national problem has failed to protect the health of our children, Maine’s natural resources and the economies that depend on them.”

We are all downwind of someone, the mercury issue is a global issue. US can take a leadership role by demonstrating what can be done economically to reduce this toxin in our environment.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Mercury Emissions in Mainstream Media

Mostly I report on localized issues regarding mercury emissions that may not be so readily apparent to parties interested in the subject of mercury in our environment. I get an article from page 10 of the New York Times, or a blurb from a submission to a scientific journal. Rarely is mercury emissions Page 1, above the fold material. The last few days has been unique in this regard, first there was an article in Forbes magazine about a few Nevada mines misreporting mercury emissions. Excerpt below;

Nevada-based Great Basin Mine Watch, the Idaho Conservation League and Earthworks threatened legal action against the Florida Canyon Mining Co.'s operation near Imlay and the Kennecott Mining Co.'s Denton-Rawhide Mine near Fallon.

Contrary to recent data reported to the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, the mines reported little or no mercury emissions over the last eight years to the federal EPA, said John Hadder, staff scientist with Great Basin Mine Watch.

In 2006, the Florida Canyon mine sent 440 pounds of mercury into the air and the Rawhide mine reported 350 pounds of emissions, according to the NDEP.

"We now know that hundreds of pounds of mercury are needlessly going into our air from mines that have minimal controls in place," Hadder said. "This new information is a wake-up call. We want the state and industry to agree to get controls in place right away."

Then USA Today runs a front page exposé on mercury emissions with a nifty state-by-state interactive map, and a very cool global and state-by-state map of where mercury is landing. For any of us who follow mercury emissions on a regular basis, all 23 or so of us, none of the information in USA Today was really new. What is important though is that mercury emissions and the health effects caused thereby is becoming more and more a mainstream topic of discussion.

If the issue remains in front of the average news follower then the chances of making meaningful improvements in global mercury emissions are dramatically improved. I want to thank USA Today for their brilliant coverage. When USA Today takes on a topic like this they do a phenomenal job of bringing technical issues to the average reader so that they are then able to walk away with a better understanding of whats going on in their world.

There were three articles in USA Today on Tuesday Oct 30th. I have made links to all of them below.

Mercury emitters rush to meet new U. S. rules, by Larry Wheeler, of Gannett News Service
&
Opposition takes on coal plants, by Bobby Carmichael, of USA Today
&
Power plants are focus of drive to cut mercury, by Larry Wheeler, of Gannett News Service

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New England Lobs A Mercury Bomb at the Midwest

In move that should really surprise no one, the Governors of six New England States are calling on the USEPA to come down harder to reduce mercury emissions from the Midwest that are depositing in and around New England. While I agree the Feds could do more nationally to address this issue, lobbing "our poop doesn't smell" bombs toward the Midwest is humorous. If the Feds need to do anything it is to get tough nationally, not just in the Midwest.

Its as though the Midwest's mercury is somehow more dangerous than the mercury from out West or even their own belching stacks in New England, of which there are several. Let's get tough as a nation on mercury emissions and stop pointing fingers at one region or another. It is a problem for all of us to deal with, and I am certain we will.

An excerpt from today's Boston.com follows;

Gov. Patrick is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to do more to control the mercury pollution that's blowing into New England from the Midwest.

He's joining the governors of the other five New England states and New York in urging EPA action.

Patrick says pollution from the Midwest's coal-fired power plants is contributing to high mercury levels found in freshwater fish in the Northeast.

I know there are a lot of coal burning plants in the Midwest and New England is downwind, but in the big picture we are all downwind of someone. With mercury emissions this is a global issue that needs to be addressed for everyone's sake. Oh, and by the way Go Bosox!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Forest Fires & Other Similar Blazes Roughly Equal Mercury Emissions From Power Plants

A newly released study of forest fires and other blazes reveals that large amounts of mercury are emitted from these fires roughly equal to the amount emitted from coal burning power plants. Scientists, Hans Friedli and Christine Wiedinmyer, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have plotted state-by-state estimates of mercury emissions from such fires. It is preliminary research that the authors caution may be subject to 50% error but it is extremely useful information in its current state.

The mercury comes from natural and industrial sources that lands in soil and upon plant matter and gets re-released into the atmosphere when these fire occur. So it is not correct to just say "see, equal amounts are released naturally," and use that as an argument against strict mercury standards because a lot of the mercury is being deposited from industrial sources, so that if they were reduced would reduce these re-emissions too.

An excerpt from this interesting UCAR article follows with a link to the full article here.

The study, "Mercury Emission Estimates from Fires: An Initial Inventory for the United States," is being published online today by the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's principal sponsor, as well as by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The paper estimates that fires in the continental United States and Alaska release about 44 metric tons of mercury into the atmosphere every year. It is the first study to estimate mercury emissions for each state, based on a new computer model developed at NCAR. The authors caution that their estimates for the nation and for each state are preliminary and are subject to a 50 percent or greater margin of error. A metric ton is about 10% larger than a U.S. ton.

Mercury does not originate in fires. Instead, it comes from industrial and natural sources, often settling into soil and plant matter. Intense fires then release the mercury back into the atmosphere, where it poses a new danger because it can reach sensitive waterways and other areas.

"What we are seeing is that mercury from other sources is being deposited into the vegetation and soil and then being released back into the atmosphere, where it can travel far downwind and contaminate watersheds and fragile ecosystems," says NCAR scientist Christine Wiedinmyer, one of the study's co-authors. "It's important for federal and state officials to have this type of information and to know where mercury is coming from so they can better protect public health and the environment."


Monday, October 15, 2007

IDEM Gets Berated By EPA, First It Was BP and Now US Steel, What Are They Thinking?

It was only a couple months ago that IDEM, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, was giving BP a pass on emissions of heavy metals, including mercury, into Lake Michigan. An immediate outcry from the public sector all around the Great Lakes drew attention to IDEM's plans and they were quickly squashed as BP had to give-in to protect what little integrity they had left after touting themselves as the "green" energy choice and then looking like big time polluters instead. That was then this is now.

Now it is IDEM and US Steel playing lets get lax with emission limits of sludge and heavy metals into our lakes. It is almost unbelievable; who comes up with these ideas? Do they think we are all stupid and won't care?

The outcry on this one is larger and rightly so. The Chicago Tribune ran an article Friday highlighting (or should it be lowlighting) some of the shennanigans IDEM has been playing with US Steel. It not only showed what their plans were for the future, it brought into focus what they haven't been doing for several years. Its as though they want to be exposed as incompetent; mission accomplished!

A few excerpts from the Chicago Tribune story on the subject.

Federal regulators are sending their Indiana counterparts back to the drawing board to ensure that the Gary Works, one of the largest polluters in the Great Lakes basin, cuts the amount of toxic chemicals and heavy metals flowing into a Lake Michigan tributary.

Responding to a Tribune story about a new water permit for the massive steel mill, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it has blocked the proposal, which would scrap, relax or omit limits on pollution the U.S. Steel Corp. mill dumps into the Grand Calumet River before it empties into the lake.
[...]
The letter, dated Oct. 1 but not made public until now, chided the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for giving U.S. Steel five years to limit several pollutants, including mercury, lead, cyanide, ammonia and a cancer-causing chemical called benzo(a)pyrene.

Federal regulators also criticized Indiana for failing to set more stringent pollution standards that would help clean up the Grand Calumet, one of the most contaminated waterways in the Great Lakes region.

"They have to do more to protect water quality," said Peter Swenson, chief of the water permits section in the EPA's Chicago office.
[...]
Federal law requires states to renew water permits every five years to meet the Clean Water Act goal of eliminating pollution. But Indiana hasn't reissued a permit for the Gary Works since 1994.
[...]
The latest fight about a Lake Michigan polluter comes three months after Indiana regulators gave a BP refinery in nearby Whiting permission to significantly increase pollution discharged into the lake, the source of drinking water for Chicago and scores of other communities.

Faced with a storm of public protest and threats of legal action, BP later backed down and promised to meet the more stringent pollution limits in its old permit.
[...]
"People in the Great Lakes region no longer are going to tolerate these attempts to look the other way or wait another five years for things to get better," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in an interview. "It would be helpful if Indiana officials would get with the program and realize Lake Michigan shouldn't be a dumping ground."

If it wasn't so sad it would be funny. What were they thinking?

Idaho Governor Leans Away From Mercury Emissions

Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter continues the push of former Governor Jim Risch to keep Idaho out of the mercury "cap-and-trade" program, thus eliminating any chance of a coal fired power plant being built in the State. Currently Idaho has no such plants and thus has a Federally allocated mercury emission allowance of zero. In order for any new plants to be constructed they would have to offset their emissions by purchasing credits. But if they opt out of the program then no credits can be purchased and no plants can be built.

An excerpt from the Magic Valley Times News follows;

Idaho should not join a proposed federal mercury cap-and-trade program, at least for now, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter told the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Board in a letter dated earlier this month.

The Idaho Legislature and former Gov. Jim Risch took steps last year to keep the Gem State out of the federal program and coal-fired power plants - major emitters of mercury - out of Idaho. But the board has re-examined the issue in recent months, prompting some to speculate the DEQ is interested in joining the program and opening the door for coal-based energy production.

Otter's letter could slam that door.

"I believe it was the right decision at that time," Otter said of the Legislature's actions against mercury, "and I believe it is still the appropriate course of action for the near future."

The federal cap-and-trade program limits the amount of mercury each state can emit, but allows states below the cap to trade their emissions allowances to other states.

The program, which the Bush administration expects will lower nationwide emissions from 48 tons to 15 tons a year, is on hold pending a lawsuit.

Otter wants the board to postpone considering the program at least until the lawsuit is resolved. Meanwhile, he encouraged the DEQ to study mercury in Idaho, a state with no coal-fired power plants or other major mercury emitters but high concentrations of mercury in some areas.

The rest of the article can be read here.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

As Expected, Indiana Chooses Federal Plan

There were no surprises yesterday when the Indiana Pollution Control Board opted to stick with Federal CAMR standards rather than adopt their own tougher mercury laws. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, 11-1, but there was some debate.

An excerpt from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette follows;

The Indiana Air Pollution Control Board on Wednesday voted 11-1 to move forward with the federal minimum in mercury emissions reductions rather than a more stringent regulation sought by environmental advocates.

The seemingly strong vote, however, was marred by several members of the board expressing disappointment that after years of study and months of negotiating no compromise could be reached.

“I feel like we have spun our wheels unnecessarily to get nowhere,” board Chairman James Miner said.
[...]
Gail Charnley, who works for Health Risk Strategies in Washington, told the panel that only 5 percent to 10 percent of the mercury found in Indiana’s fish is attributable to Indiana power plants.

Most of it, she says, comes from other states as well as China and India.

But concerned citizen Lisa Smith said that China and India are probably blaming Indiana.

“Everybody blames somebody else, and all we get is the bare minimum,” she said.

Board member Thomas Anderson said the board ended up focusing on the wrong issues – such as money and technology – and not enough on public health.

You can read the full article here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Indiana Votes Today On New Mercury Emission Standards

Today the Indiana Pollution Control Board was scheduled to vote on a final rule governing mercury emissions from coal burning power plants within the State. It will be no big surprise that they will follow the Federal CAMR guidelines. IDEM, the Indiana Dept of Environmental Management, has made their recommendations to do just that. While there are a couple other proposals for stricter standards it would be a shock if the Board went in another direction.

An excerpt from Inside Indiana Business follows;

FACTS OF THE SITUATION

-- On Wednesday, October 3, the Indiana Air Pollution Control Board will take final action on a rule to control emissions of mercury from Indiana’s coal-fired power plants.

-- IDEM is asking the board to adopt the rule issued by the US EPA which requires a 66 percent reduction in mercury emissions by 2018.

-- The Hoosier Environmental Council advocates a 90% reduction in uncontrolled mercury emissions by 2010.

-- Improving Kids’ Environment proposes a middle ground on emission reduction targets and the timetable. It would result in thousands fewer pounds of mercury being released.

The whole story can be found here.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Dr. Charles T. Driscoll, Jr. Inducted Into The National Academy of Engineering

One of the heros of Hg-ATME, Dr. Driscoll is most deserving of this honor. He was intimately involved in the ground-breaking study that verified the existence of mercury "hotspots" in the environment, and specifically in the northeast United States.

And his interview on NPR can possibly still be accessed here.

Dr. Driscoll a professor at Syracuse University, is from Skaneateles (pronounced "skenny-AT-aless"), NY in the fingerlakes region. More can be read about Dr. Driscoll here, and more with a picture here.

Congratulations Dr. Driscoll, your contributions to the field will always be remembered.

Bayou State Moves To Say "Bye To Mercury Emissions"

Louisiana is taking further steps to radically reduce mercury emissions in the Bayou State. Plans that were put off because of Katrina are now back on line and mercury emissions are on the run. While it appears that Louisiana will ride the Federal CAMR relating to coal burning power plants, the Chlor -alkali industry is following the lead of Oceana and going mercury free in the next couple years. These changes represent huge reductions in the amount of mercury released into the air and water of the area.

An excerpt from 2TheAdvocate follows;

Interrupted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the process was taken up again and helped along when the Legislature passed the Louisiana Mercury Risk Reduction Act of 2006.

That work culminated in the DEQ release of the “Mercury Risk Reduction Plan” Thursday, available on DEQ’s Web site: http://www.deq.louisiana.gov.
[...]
Some of the biggest reductions are coming in 2008 and 2009 as two chlor-alkali plants in the state switch to a process that uses no mercury.

Pioneer Cos. Inc. in St. Gabriel plans to stop using mercury by the end of 2008, and PPG Industries plant in Lake Charles has already made the transition, Piehler said.

“Those are the few biggest ones,” Piehler said about the future reductions.

The next big releasers of mercury to the air in Louisiana are coal-fired power plants, but relatively recent federal mercury rules will help reduce mercury emissions from those in the coming years, he said. Louisiana has four coal-fired power plants.

More from KATC.com;

Barry Kohl, a member of the working group that helped DEQ draft the report who's also with the Louisiana Audubon Council, called it a "good first step," and one that puts Louisiana ahead of other states. He said few states have plans both to identify mercury pollution sources and to try to mitigate their effects.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Nova Scotia Implements National Mercury Emission Standards

Nova Scotia announced today the Province will implement the Canadian National Standards for mercury emissions from coal burning power plants. The standard reduces mercury emissions by 70% from pre-2001 levels by 2010.

An excerpt from the press release in Nova Scotia's Canada Environment and Labour follows;

"We're pleased to be able to move forward with the implementation of the national standard," said Mark Parent, Minister of Environment and Labour. "We are committed to reducing our environmental footprint and protecting human health, and these regulations will help us do that."

The full release is here.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Great Falls, MT - Mercury In Its Past, Mercury In Its Future?

I came across a very nice story written in the Great Falls Tribune by Richard Ecke. He recognizes the 25th anniversary of the falling of an old plant's smokestack and very eloquently remembers the days of a bygone era, when pollution was tolerated, at least to some extent, for the jobs it created in the area. Folks living there knew they were being exposed to nasty stuff but it became a way of life because the plant was most of their livelyhoods.

Great Falls is now in the cross-hairs of another tall stack looking to "cast its shadow" on the locals. The newly proposed Highwood Generating Station is looming and the town and the surroundings can't help but think about the old and the new.

I love this story because it makes one reflect on where we as a nation have been and where we are going. The first couple paragraphs below should get you hooked too. I hope so, it is well worth the read.

Gone are the days when the Anaconda Co. smokestack in Great Falls belched smoke and most residents turned a blind eye to the pollution emitted by the industrial plant.

For a good chunk of the 20th century, the smelter and, later, metals refinery, in Black Eagle were the community's largest employers. In its final 30 years, its mostly union members earned increasingly higher wages and benefits from one of the state's most powerful companies.

Read on.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Beijing Olympics - Plan To Use Mercury Seeding To Clear Skies For Games - MORE Chinese Mercury Emissions!?!

This one is very hard to believe, but considering the "source" not so very. In an attempt to make the polluted skies in Beijing look clear for the TV cameras for the '08 Summer Olympics, Chinese officials are toying with shooting mercury into the clouds above the city to create a rainfall that will result in micro-pockets of clean air. Like we don't have enough Chinese mercury in the air already.

This excerpt from Sports Business Radio;

Scientists have recently been shooting mercury in to the clouds in Beijing to produce rain and thus clear the air in small pockets of the city. Why? They plan on using anti-aircraft machinery to shoot mercury in to the sky above the Bird's Nest, which will serve as the home to the opening and closing cermonies. Thus, when you watch these ceremonies on TV, for the few hours that these events take place, the Chinese hope to manipulate the air quality and make it look like its clear skies in Beijing to the viewers on TV.

The full article is here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Its Metalicious - New Study Shows Direct Link - Stack Mercury Emissions to Fish Levels

Not really metalicious, but close. A yet unreleased study will show the direct link between mercury emitted from coal burning stacks and other industrial sources, to increasing levels in fish. This study may help us understand exactly what our efforts to reduce mercury emissions may have and how long it will take.

An excerpt from EurekAlert follows;

The study concludes that if mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants and other industrial activities were to be cut immediately, the amount showing up in fish would begin to go down within a decade.

It will appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America online edition next week.

This breakthrough study (called METAALICUS – Mercury Experiment to Assess Atmospheric Loading in Canada and the United States) involved government agencies and universities on both sides of the border. It has global implications.

Pennsylvania Plan Gets EPA Approval

The mercury emissions reduction plan spear headed by PennFuture and embraced by Governor Edward Rendell, that was contentiously debated for months in Harrisburg, has been approved by the EPA and can be implemented as written. This plan is important because it came through significant opposition in a coal state. But, as we have pointed out before in Hg-ATME, tough mercury laws can actually help local coal companies.

Excerpts from the PR Newswire follow;

"This is excellent news for Pennsylvania," said Governor Rendell.
"Enacting our mercury emission reduction plan protects our citizens,
reduces the levels of this dangerous toxin in our air, and paves the way
for growth in our coal industry."
[...]
"My two-part mercury reduction strategy takes a much stronger stance
than the weaker federal rule that allows companies to reduce mercury
emissions at power plants in other states, and trade those reductions for
higher emissions at Pennsylvania plants. That does a tremendous disservice
to the people of Pennsylvania, as it does nothing to reduce pollution
here."
[...]
Because many power plants are installing scrubbers, Pennsylvania's
mercury reduction plan also creates new opportunities for the coal
producers. Pennsylvania coal has a relatively high sulfur and mercury
content compared to coal from many western states, but with the
installation of scrubbers to remove these pollutants, coal from the
Keystone State will be more desirable for electric power producers.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Not Much Happening in Mercury Regulations World - Idaho Reconsidering

While I have been away on vacation for some of the last month the lack of posting is more attributed to a lack of movement in mercury regulations from very many States.

While Nebraska opted to stick with the Federal CAMR last month, the only State I see discussing the CAMR is Idaho. They currently have no coal fired units and originally looked to opting out of cap and trade and would thus eliminate the possibility of any new coal fired plants in the State.

Since they have no current plants in existence the CAMR alloted Idaho zero mercury emissions. If they opt out of cap and trade, they have no way to account for any new mercury emissions. By staying in the trade program they can purchase credits to offset any new plants.

From the Times News or magicvalley.com;

The Idaho Conservation League, an environmental group with a hard-line anti-mercury stance, is encouraging its supporters to attend Thursday's meeting at the Red Lion Hotel, 1357 Blue Lakes Blvd. The group says the meeting signals a policy shift that may open the door for coal-based energy production in Idaho via a federal cap-and-trade program.

"I believe this will set the stage for an Idaho plan to opt Idaho into the mercury cap-and-trade program," Courtney Washburn, an ICL spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail circulated in early July.

The full article can be read here.

The meeting was held and quote a few residents chose to speak out against allowing cap and trade. Some highlights from the meeting;

The south-central Idaho residents who filled the Oak Room at the Red Lion Hotel Canyon Springs had only one thing to say about opting in to a federal cap-and-trade program for mercury emissions: No, no and definitely no.
[...]
"We must be the conscience and the mind and the soul of our environment," Twin Falls Dr. David McClusky said. In this case, he said, the board needs to avoid scientific thought "that says you have to support both sides of a scientific argument, not just the one supported by facts."



Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Nebraska Opts to Follow Federal CAMR Standards - Sierra Club and Others Take Exception

The Nebraska Environmental Quality Council opted not to tighten mercury emission limits beyond the Federal standard and now catch heat from environmentalists for that decision. Nebraska is not alone 28 States or so are also going that route, but 13 States along with several groups are challenging the Federal CAMR in court.

This from the Omaha World Herald;

The new rules adopted by the Environmental Quality Council are based on recently written federal regulations that are being challenged in federal court.
[...]
The federal mercury regulations are intended to slowly reduce power plant mercury emissions nationwide by almost 70 percent. The rules have been controversial, in part, because they allow utilities to buy the right to continue polluting if it turns out that installing pollution equipment is not economical.

Nebraska utilities have not decided whether they'll cut back emissions or purchase allowances because they don't yet have enough information to make that decision.

And this from the Southwest Nebraska News;

August 20, 2007 Statement by Camellia Watkins, Sierra Club Conservation Organizer:

“In 2006 the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) held a series of Stakeholder meetings to determine how to address the Federal mandate to adopt mercury regulations. The purpose of the meetings were to bring together utilities and community representatives in hopes of getting to a consensus on mercury regulations that would protect public health by reasonably reducing mercury emissions from coal fired power plants. Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that when absorbed into the blood stream of children under 6, pregnant women or women of childbearing age can cause various neurological diseases. Currently in the United States it is estimated that 1 in 6 women have high enough levels of toxic mercury in their blood that it could affect their unborn children. That means at least 630,000 infants a year are at risk for mercury poisoning. The NDEQ has classified over twenty lakes and streams in Nebraska as having unsafe levels of mercury contaminated fish.”

Camellia has a lot more to say on the subject and the full text of her statement can be read here.

While I Vacationed on the Golf Course, BP May Have Come To It's Senses

I have been away tearing up the golf courses of Northern Michigan and Central Ohio. I did take a few divots and hit some greens hard in regulation but always replaced my divots and fixed my ball marks, keeping my green image intact. It appears BP is trying to replace a few divots taken from its green image in this Indiana refinery fiasco.

From the Chicago Tribune;

Responding to a groundswell of protests from politicians and the public, BP and Indiana regulators agreed Wednesday to reconsider a permit that allows the Midwest's largest oil refinery to significantly increase the amount of toxic waste dumped into Lake Michigan.
[...]
"This isn't a trivial controversy," Stephen Elbert, vice chairman of BP America, told a panel of politicians, regulators and advocates. "People want this fixed yesterday. We've got 5,000 BP employees that are concerned, not only about the contamination but about this smack on the company."

And this from the Gary Post Tribune;

Elected officials and environmentalists blasted BP Whiting's controversial wastewater permit at a meeting in Chicago on Wednesday, urging the company to go "beyond compliance."

BP America Vice President Steve Elbert defended the permit, but said in response to mounting public pressure that the company will consider ways to reduce its proposed discharges of ammonia, suspended solids and mercury.

"We have heard, loud and clear, folks believe that's not enough -- meeting the law that protects the environment," Elbert said.

I said in my earlier posts on the subject that BP had hurt their reputation already, regardless if they come clean and do the right thing now. I hope they do go beyond compliance as a 'green' company should.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

ERCO Worldwide Finally Decides To Go Mercury Free

In a move long. long overdue the Port Edwards based ERCO Worldwide plant is going mercury free. Oceana has targeted these chemical plants for decades and has pressured most of them to convert long ago. ERCO tried unsuccessfully last year to get the Wisconsin Public Utility Board to grant them a special rate to facilitate this conversion, but now after more Oceana press they are going forward without the rate break.

From Wisbusiness.com;

In a statement, Paul Timmons, President of ERCO Worldwide, said the membrane technology “provides significant environmental benefits over the existing mercury based technology.

“This conversion significantly extends facility life, increases capacity of the facility by approximately 30 percent, reduces operating costs through enhanced efficiency of electrical energy and maintains flexibility in facility operations.”

I commend the change over, what I don't understand is, if it makes all that sense why did it take so long to happen? But better late than never.

BP: Big Problem, Bad Publicity, Beyond Pollution

The headlines lately splash BP's name on a daily basis in the Chicago newspapers and throughout the Great Lakes, almost as much as BP splashes pollution into Lake Michigan. It is beyond me to understand how a company that portrays itself as the "Green" choice within its industry can have such a poorly conceived public relations snafu on its hands.

Hg-ATME follows mercury pollution regulations and trends and caters to a fairly small group of concerned citizens and lawmakers keeping abreast of what is going on nationally in this regard. Rarely do we have the opportunity to talk about headlines attracting attention of the masses. BP and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management have given us that opportunity now.

The decision by IDEM to give BP an extension allowing toxic emissions into the lake so BP can expand its refinery in Whiting, IN and create a handful of full time jobs and increase its taxes paid to the State, is by far one of the most ill-conceived decisions a State environmental agency has ever made. It is guaranteed to backfire on both IDEM and BP to the extent that simply doing the right thing and requiring BP to install abatement equipment to prevent the problem in the first place will prove to be the wiser decision for all parties involved.

I don't know how many thousands or millions of dollars BP saves with its sweetheart deal with IDEM but it will lose more, lots more, in the long run as consumers are becoming environmentally aware and using their spending habits to prove it. BP has spent millions of dollars creating an image and could have afforded to do the right thing to maintain it, but in true big business fashion it let short term profits get in the way of long-term goals and set back its environmental movement decades, at least in the eyes of the mid-westerners who live around the Great Lakes.

What a fiasco! BP mismanaged this situation so profoundly that they now cannot win for losing. Even if they come clean and do the right thing, the fact they tried to go the sleazy route will not be forgotten, and if they persist in seeking the permit exception they will muddy their "green" image greater. How can IDEM regain the trust of its constituents? The people it is supposed to protect have lost faith in its ability to look out for their best interests. The perception that big business has gotten the inside track will have political fallout down the road and some IDEM employees will be looking for new jobs in the future. And the rest of the Great Lake States will not forget this selfish little fiasco.

I simply cannot imagine how it came to this. What were they thinking?

Friday, July 20, 2007

Chlor-Alkali Plants Literally Have No Excuse, They Simply Want To Pollute

The efforts of Oceana have been discussed by Hg-ATME in the past. This group, in the name of clean oceans, has taken on the Chlor-Alkali industry for years. Their successes are numerous and their efforts should be applauded. My way of applauding is to continue focusing on issues they raise for the cause.

This week Oceana has come out with a small list of big polluters. (Their full report is here.) They make the case that these plants simply must change their ways or admit they are trying to pollute the earth moreso than make profit.

I picked up on this from Associated Content and have some excerpts below. The full AC article can be read here.

Oceana's analysis of the use of mercury in chlorine plants is compelling. By switching to mercury-free technology--a method already utilized to produce 90 percent of the chlorine in the United States-the chlorine plants in question would not only increase energy efficiency but also would increase capacity, sales and ultimately profits. However, the five U.S. facilities-dubbed The Filthy Five by the report--remain wedded to 110-year-old technology of using mercy in chlorine production, releasing on average, four times more mercury per each of their five plants than the average power plant using mercury-free technology.

Jackie Savitz, Director of Oceana's Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination explains. "The chlorine industry's dirty little secret is that five U.S. plants are releasing thousands of pounds of mercury into the environment each year. Their refusal to switch to mercury-free technology -- a cost-effective solution adopted by the majority of plants around the world -- is an outrage that should concern citizens and shareholders alike." The five U.S. chlorine plants that refuse to switch to the mercury-free technology are: Ashta Chemicals in Ashtabula, Ohio; Olin Corporation's two plants in Charleston, Tenn., and Augusta, Ga.; PPG Industries in Natrium, W.Va.; and ERCO Worldwide in Port Edwards, Wis.

Seriously, just STOP.

Wisconsin Moves Closer to Strict Mercury Controls

As Hg-ATME discussed earlier, Wisconsin has been investigating the right course of action the State should take in dealing with mercury emissions from coal burning power plants. Now, the DNR and State regulators will be deciding what to recommend. An excerpt from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel follows;

At issue are regulations that have moved sporadically for several years and were first pushed by conservation groups concerned about the link between smokestack emissions and mercury found in fish.

If approved when they come before the Natural Resources Board in the fall, the regulations would restrict mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants 90% by 2020
[...]
O. Russell Bullock Jr., a meteorologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Wisconsin power plants contribute 10% to 20% of mercury deposition in the state - and perhaps 30% near power plants.

"On a statewide level, I would say Wisconsin is a state where global factors are more important," Bullock said.

Even if what Mr. Bullock says is true, and I have some doubts, I can say unequivocally that 100% of the mercury Wisconsin power plants emit, falls somewhere.

"When we set the bar, we need to consider the fact that the mercury we produce comes down somewhere," said Eric Uram, an environmentalist active on mercury matters.

"Then we can say, 'We have done as much as we can here to solve the problem. We know it's coming from you. It's time for you to step up to the plate.' "

The full Journal Sentinel article can be read here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nations Waterways Focus of Mercury Emissions Attention

Hg-ATME tries to stick mainly to smokestack mercury emissions issues in this blog but recent concerns over some of the nations most prominent bodies of water and their own battles with mercury is worthy of note.

A recent Indiana Dept of Environmental Management permit for BP's Whiting, IN refinery would allow massive increases in ammonia and toxic sludge releases directly into Lake Michigan. What are they thinking. I read in one article the plant expansion would create 80 full time jobs. Now I'm all for creating jobs but to allow huge increases in refinery emissions into the lake for a measly 80 jobs, not even 800 would justify that.

Our Senator, here in Illinois, Dick Durbin, will not let this go unchallenged. From an excerpt in All American Patriots we see this;

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today sent a letter to Benjamin Grumbles, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to express his strong opposition to a permit that will allow BP’s Whiting refinery in Indiana to discharge more pollution into Lake Michigan. The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, recently approved by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), will allow BP to increase ammonia and sludge pollution discharges into Lake Michigan by 50 percent and 35 percent respectively.

In today’s letter Durbin said, “Lake Michigan is one of our nation’s greatest natural resources and serves as the drinking water supply for over 40 million people – including the entire Chicago metropolitan area, supports a significant commercial fishing industry, and supports numerous recreational activities… It is our responsibility to support efforts to restore, rather than further degrade Lake Michigan. We should be working toward the goal of eliminating pollution in this fresh water ecosystem.”

The permit runs counter to the Clean Water Act and the State of Indiana’s anti-degradation policy. A specific provision in the federal Clean Water Act prohibits any downgrade in water quality near a pollution source even if discharge limits are met.

You can read full contents of his and IL Congressman Rahm Emanuel's letters here too.

And then a decades long battle over mercury and other toxic pollution in the San Francisco Bay is being addressed with some new standards that are long overdue. It was always a battle over who was responsible. No one disputed that the problem existed they always wanted to know who to blame. Well now we will know who not to blame for future contributions as the standards kick in and limit future releases. This excerpt from KGO-TV/DT;

For decades, there have been concerns about mercury pollution in San Francisco Bay. Environmentalists have fought for changes to protect our water and our health, and today, state officials approved a plan to try to reduce mercury levels.
[...]
For years environmentalists have been pushing the state to adopt a process to identify the sources of mercury and set goals for reducing the pollution.

Today the California Water Resources Board listed the old gold mines as the number one source, but Baykeeper says a contemporary culprit are refineries.

Deb Self: "It probably is coming from the smokestacks and we're urging the state to require the refineries to do the studies to show where the mercury is going. It may be the most important pollutant source."

I guess one cannot totally disassociate mercury stack emissions from Clean Water issues, they are really tied together. Sort of a cause (stacks) and effect (polluted water) situation when it comes to mercury.

Minnesota To Hold Stakeholder Meetings to Discuss Statewide Mercury Emission Reductions

Stakeholders from around the State will be invited to attend meetings to discuss how to achieve the Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL. An excerpt from the International Falls Daily Journal follows;

The first of a series of meetings in which stakeholders will identify ways that mercury air emissions and releases to Minnesota lakes and streams could be reduced to acceptable levels is under way at the Minnesota History Center. Attendees are members of a 16-person strategy work group representing environmental, sports fishing and business interests; the electrical and taconite industries; and local, state and tribal governments.

The Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load stakeholder process will eventually produce recommendations for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to consider for an implementation plan. The plan will enable Minnesota to meet the goals of the MPCA?s Mercury TMDL study, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved in March.

"Reducing annual in-state mercury emissions by about 2,600 pounds from current levels is definitely a challenge," MPCA Assistant Commissioner David Thornton said.

Thornton said the stakeholder process will not consider changes to the goals set in the mercury TMDL study. "Our charge," he said, "is to determine how and by when the goals of the TMDL can be achieved."

It is a formidable challenge and Hg-ATME wishes them success. It looks as though the meetings may be open to the public but that participation may be limited to members of the working group that represents major blocks of constituents. But who knows, when a meeting on mercury emissions is touted as a stakeholder meeting, it is hard to conceive they would exclude public comment. They probably just want to get something accomplished rather than argue with John Q. :-) I would suggest John Q take his/her concerns to the members before the meetings next year.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Great Lakes Face a Challenge, Canada and USA, Enough Blame To Go Around

A recent study titled "Up to the Gills: Pollution in Great Lakes Fish" shows that many of the smaller varieties of fish are now demonstrating higher levels of mercury contamination that used to be found only in larger, older fish. The fact that the Great Lakes are experiencing this increased stress from industrial mercury emissions is alarming but not surprising. Anyone who has been following this issue sees the trends nationally and internationally.

What bothered me was the finger pointing in the articles I read that was blaming Canada for not doing enough. From the editorial page of The Record this,

It is not enough to blame Great Lakes pollution problems on the United States. On a per-facility basis, Canadian factories around the Great Lakes emit 93 per cent more pollution than their U.S. counterparts.

Between 1998 and 2002, air pollution from Canadian industries in the Great Lakes basin increased by three per cent, while U.S. facilities decreased their pollution by 24 per cent.

In 2004, President George W. Bush pulled together regional, state and federal agency officials, together with top members of his cabinet, to address health and environmental concerns in the Great Lakes. Major funding for cleanup efforts has followed and a bipartisan bill in Congress would earmark $20 billion for additional measures.

Canada has done almost nothing to match this effort, with the result that, for the first time, the United States is poised to move unilaterally on Great Lakes management.

That is from an editorial by Aaron Freeman the policy director for Environmental Defence, the same group that did the study. Now, I don't doubt the data showing the increased levels of mercury and other toxics, what I have a problem with is holding the Bush administration up as some benchmark environmental advocacy group. They have done little, in my mind, to earn that praise. Everyone, Canada and the US can do a lot better job of caring for one of the greatest fresh water resources in the world.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Decades Later the Minamata Disaster Is Still in the News

Decades after the dumping of tons of mercury into Minamata Bay in Japan the patients suffering from Minamata disease are still trying for retribution. I know that none of the mercury emission issues we face in the US are anywhere near the horrendous levels of mercury that caused this disaster in Japan, but it was this disaster that led to the movement to study the effects of mercury on humans and their fetuses.

Minimata should always stay as a reminder of what can happen when toxic emissions go totally unchecked. An excerpt from The Japan Times,

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner New Komeito have compiled an outline for a fresh rescue package for Minamata disease patients who have gone officially unrecognized, featuring payment of a lump sum, coalition sources said Tuesday.

While the efforts of the LDP are applauded in one sense they are also criticized in another. The fact that there was a settlement in 1995 that has proven to be insufficient has complicated the issue today since the new settlements cannot approach the old ones. A very touching editorial from Asahi.com details the dilemma. An excerpt follows,

In effect, the relief measures took a step forward in one sense but took a step back in another.

In the political settlement reached by ruling parties in 1995, about 12,000 uncertified patients received lump-sum payments. It was an ambiguous settlement that did not use government standards for certification or clearly position the patients as "victims."

In 2004, the Supreme Court said the government should expand its standards for certification to extend relief measures for a larger number of victims. The decision prompted more people to come forward as patients. Under two sets of standards established by the government and the court, work to recognize victims tended to fall behind in prefectures. That is why the coalition group decided once again to try to settle the issue.

I suggest reading the full editorial if you are interested in how this settlement is being handled. Again this is a reminder and a difficult one at that of what we should globally avoid at all costs. It is one of those "pay me now, or pay me later" kinda things.

Georgia - Cause & Effect?

Shortly after the Georgia Department of Natural Resources approved the tougher mercury laws for the State, Georgia Power files for a rate increase.

An excerpt from the Rome News Tribune,

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources board this morning approved new restrictions on mercury emissions that also set deadlines for the installation of pollution controls at Georgia Power’s coal-fired plants.

Georgia’s mercury-emission standards are now tougher than those set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But environmental groups have argued it’s not enough.

Then not only two days later Georgia Power is asking for a rate increase. The two are related but I am certain there are more things involved. An excerpt from the Atlanta Journal Constitution,

Two years after its last rate increase — and four months after the latest in a string of fuel charge increases — Georgia Power is expected to ask state regulators for more money today.

The company isn't saying how much of an increase it will request: Federal law prohibits it from discussing that amount until after it has filed a notice with the Securities and Exchange Commission. [...]

The company has a long list of expensive environmental cleanup projects either under way or about to be at its fleet of coal-fired power plants, which will help it satisfy mercury emissions rules approved by the state Environmental Protection Division Wednesday.

Anishinabek of the Gitchi Gami Site Recent Increases in Mercury and Other Toxics

Just since 2005 the Anishinabek of the Gitchi Gami are seeing increases in the levels of mercury and other toxics on the land and in the waters of the Fort Williams First Nation. Citing Environment Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory the AGG would like to see some activity to reduce these levels. From the Thunder Bay Source;

Damien Lee, executive director of the AGG says cancer-causing substances such as dioxin and mercury are what the group is most concerned about and dozens of substances are released from more than 15 active industrial operations within two kilometres of where First Nation citizens live. [...]

Lee says Environment Canada's facility and substance information is hard to find and the web site is not user friendly and he intends to put all of the data on the AGG web site.

This is a bit off my beaten track but I wanted to address the concerns of the Anishinabek of the Gitchi Gami.

Friday, June 29, 2007

House Votes to Protect Against Increased Toxic Pollution Including Mercury

The House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to put an end to funding an EPA proposal that would have potentially opened the door to extensive increases in the emission of toxic materials including mercury from major sources. An excerpt from EarthJustice follows.

Included in the Fiscal Year 2008 appropriations bill for the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, important amendments were approved, including: [...]

An end to funding a regulation proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency that would allow major toxic air polluters to avoid meeting control requirements under the Clean Air Act. EPA's proposal would have eliminated the so-called "once in, always in" rule, allowing facilities that are currently subject to the Clean Air Act's highly protective emission standards for toxic pollutants like mercury, lead, and dioxins to avoid controls if their emissions fell below certain ton-per-year thresholds. If the rule were finalized, many industries could significantly increase their toxic emissions, placing children and families in neighboring communities at risk. The amendment, introduced by Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), passed by a 252 – 178 margin. [...]

"Instead of doing the job that Congress gave it -- protecting public health and the environment -- this EPA is using taxpayer dollars to roll back environmental protections to benefit powerfully connected industries," said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. "The country owes a big debt of gratitude to Representative Johnson and the members who voted to stop this abuse. If this rule went through, it would expose millions of Americans across the country to increased emissions of the most toxic pollutants in existence."

What appears to be at stake here is that if a toxics regulated facility were to reduce its toxic emissions enough to fall below the regulated level they would come off the list of regulated facilities. But once they were off the list they could then increase emissions of toxics even higher than before without regulatory consequences. Instead of "once in, always in" it would become "once out, always out". This is my take on the subject and I could be wrong.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Oklahoma Mercury Emissions Discussion Juxtaposed to Study Findings

Two articles in last weeks Muskogee Phoenix caught my attention. In one article the Oklahoma DEQ is attempting to finalize the States mercury emissions rules. The debate is between environmentalists who would like to see tougher limits than those in the Federal EPA CAMR and the utility industry folks who would like to keep Federal standards including the cap-and-trade provision.

An excerpt from the June 17th Phoenix article follow.

The EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule, which is being challenged in court, adopts a standard that falls short of what the Clean Air Act requires. The present rule would require a 70-percent reduction in mercury emissions by 2018 and includes a cap-and-trade system.

Some fear the cap-and-trade provisions under the federal rules would allow power plants to exceed emissions standards by purchasing credits from cleaner plants — most of which would be located outside the state. That system, some fear, could lead to mercury “hot spots.”

“Those opposing the federal rule believe that trading of emission credits would not be protective enough of the public health primarily because of the possibility of hot spots from local emissions,” McElhaney said. “Those who support the federal rule state that the hot spot issue has not been substantiated, and that additional, more stringent controls would be too costly.”

Nothing new there, we see the same discussion in state after state. But what caught my attention was another article in the Phoenix the same day. This article is about mercury levels in Stilwell, OK rainfall. Could it possibly be local "hotspots" discovered and reported the very same day?

An excerpt from the other Phoenix article follows.

Environmental researchers found that rainfall samples collected in northeastern Oklahoma contain mercury concentrations at levels exceeding all but one other U.S. locale.

According to the Mercury Deposition Network, the average level of elemental mercury in rainfall in the nation is about 7 nanograms per liter. Rainfall samples collected at an air quality station located near Stilwell revealed mercury concentrations of 15.4 nanograms per liter, more than double the national average.

While it is unclear why mercury levels at the Stilwell air quality monitoring site are so high, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified coal-fired power plants as the main source of atmospheric mercury. There are four such facilities in close proximity of Stilwell — one each in Muskogee, Mayes and Rogers counties in Oklahoma and a fourth in Benton County, Ark.

What are the chances of that happening? What a coincidence! LOL