Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Colorado Story Continues

As Fort Collins and Colorado debate what to do regarding mercury emissions in the State this comprehensive article from the Fort Collins Weekly is one of the best articles I have read to date on this subject. An excerpt follows and a link to the full article is at the bottom of this post.

Even the EPA is rethinking the wisdom of allowing cap and trade for mercury. Last May, the EPA’s inspector general released a report noting that the agency had adopted its Clean Air Mercury Rule before any widespread research into hotspots was published, and that cap and trade policies for mercury may not be appropriate.

“Although EPA indicated in CAMR that it would monitor the impact of the cap-and-trade rule on mercury deposition, the Agency has not yet developed a monitoring plan for this purpose,” the report states in its executive summary. “Without field data from an improved monitoring network, EPA’s ability to advance mercury science will be limited and ‘utility-attributable’ hotspots that pose health risks may occur and go undetected.”

It remains to be seen if Colorado will follow suit and eliminate cap and trade for mercury. The state health department was poised to hear proposals for mercury emissions requirements in November. Hearings have been postponed twice since, with negotiations on three proposals now scheduled for Feb. 6 . The strongest is brought by a coalition of local governments, calling for a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions statewide by 2015 with no provision for cap and trade.

Just a few years ago, industry would have argued—and some still do—that this requirement is prohibitively expensive. But in recent years, new technology using activated charcoal injection into flue gases has proven to be 90 percent effective at removing mercury in a manner that manufacturers say is cost-effective to the utility. One of the leaders in this new technology is located in Denver.

The other two proposals are variations on a cap and trade policy and the most lenient is being advocated by the utility companies, including Platte River Power Authority. Bleem says that Platter River appreciates the flexibility provided by such policies.

“Our issue is the certainty of operation of the plant,” he says. “Loads continue to grow every year. Cap and trade programs mean the ability to have sufficient regulatory flexibility that we can run the plant.”

There is so much more to this story here. I want to thank Greg Campbell for his excellent post.

Louisiana Chlorine Plant to Eliminate Mercury Emissions

Another one bites the dust. In a continuing drive to eliminate mercury emissions from Chlor-Alkali plants, Pioneer Companies, in St.Gabriel, LA is expanding and modernizing its chlorine plant. The expansion includes the total elimination of mercury from its processes and will be a significant boost to the overall well being of the area.

From KATC-3

Houston-based Pioneer Companies Inc. will stop using mercury-membrane technology by the end of 2008, the plant said. The technology is outdated and it has been blamed for adding significant amounts of mercury into the environment.

There are five plants left in the nation that use the mercury-membrane technology, said Jackie Savitz, a campaign director for Oceana, a national ocean advocacy group that has led the fight to get chlorine makers to stop using the old technology.

You can read this good news story here.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Fort Collins, CO - A City At Odds With Itself - They Strive for Consensus

From The Coloradoan

The city of Fort Collins has a stake in both sides of a debate over mercury pollution.

While the city is part of a coalition of cities and counties advocating one set of proposed rules for state mercury regulations, it is also an owner of Platte River Power Authority, the operator of Rawhide Energy Station north of Fort Collins, which advocates a different proposal.
The local government coalition has pushed for a 90 percent reduction without a cap and trade program, while other proposals have included lesser reductions and the trading program.

A group of utilities and power providers, including PRPA, said there are other ways to achieve mercury reductions.

I like this article because it shows how compromise must come about.

Why Do Some States Get It & Others Don't?

As I have followed the progress of the mercury emission legislation as it rolls out across the nation it strikes me how differently States, and organizations within, differ on what is possible, affordable, and necessary.

Where one state like my home State of Illinois has passed some of the strictest mercury legislation in the country, and has negotiated successfully with each major coal burning power company in the State to achieve these strict standards (albeit with some hedging on the dates while best efforts are made). Another state like Alabama will just go along with the Federal CAMR without much debate at all. And others like Pennsylvania and Michigan continue to fight over this issue.

How can technology be OK for one state and not for others? How can strict standards be met in one state and shunned in another? Industry groups fight tougher standards and say they are too costly, or unacheivable. Environmental groups push for strict standards and point out the technology that exists and the relative low cost to consumer. Hotspots, health effects, exposure limits, toxicology; all these issues are argued over.

I have tried to remain neutral in my reporting, and will continue to do so, but some of this just doesn't make sense.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Idaho Looking To Opt Out of Cap and Trade

From the Idaho Mountain Express

The House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee voted Wednesday to recommend approval of a rule that would keep Idaho out of the federal mercury cap and trade program.

Idaho has a zero cap for mercury emissions. If that cap stays in place, and if Idaho doesn't join the pollution-credit trading system, coal-fired power plants will not be able to operate here because such plants can't operate with zero mercury emissions.

The issue moves to the full House for their consideration, then to the Senate.

To explain this a little more. Idaho has no coal fired plants burning today and thus they have a zero mercury emission limit in the Federal CAMR. If they stay out of the cap and trade program they will not be able to build any coal burning power plants becasue there is no way to offset the mercury emissions. If they were to opt into the cap and trade program they could buy credits to offset any plant emissions that would be built.

The whole article is shown above but the link to it is here too.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hot Topic

From Energy biz Insider

The debate over mercury emissions is once again reaching a feverish pitch.
"Trading has the potential to lead to static or increased emissions in some areas of the United States," scientists write in the new BioDiversity Research Institute report published in BioScience.
"I have long-argued that EPA used faulty science in order to justify an insufficient mercury rule, and these studies prove it," says Senator Collins [(R-ME)]. "EPA misrepresented the mercury problem based on computer data which had not been peer-reviewed, and then put out a rule which does not account for mercury hotspots ..."

Read the full article here.

Wisconsin Groups Push For, and Colorado Delays Decisions On, Tougher Mercury Emission Rules

From The Wisconsin State Journal

More than two dozen organizations - including Clean Wisconsin, the Sierra Club and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation - presented a petition to the state Department of Natural Resources asking for a rule that would require a 90 percent cut in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2012.
"We're installing state-of-the- art emission-control technologies at a number of generating stations where we're able to reduce these emissions in a cost- effective manner," Smith said. An Alliant subsidiary, Wisconsin Power & Light, owns or co-owns coal-fired power plants near Portage, Cassville and Sheboygan.

You can read the full WI State Journal article here.

Meanwhile in Colorado,
From CBS 4 in Denver

Government and industry representatives and environmentalists were working on a compromise Tuesday on new mercury emissions standards, leading state officials to postpone a hearing on four competing proposals.

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission was set to consider the proposals Wednesday but tentatively rescheduled the hearing for Feb. 15.

"All the parties agree they would like more time to work," said Christopher Dann, spokesman for the state air pollution control division.
Several local governments and environmentalists oppose the trading provision, saying mercury is a powerful toxin...

You can read the full broadcast transcript here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Raesemann Blogs Live From EUEC - Mercury CEMS Session

In what was supposed to be warm and sunny Tucson, AZ, now apparently snow covered, the EUEC conference convened this week. Robert Raesemann of Raesemann Enterprizes is there covering the proceedings live and blogging daily. I have picked up on his first report and have linked it here. As most of you know I have been covering the mercury emissions legislation for quite a while and his reports emphasize a lot of what Hg-ATME has been discussing lately. Thank you Robert, I will continue to refer my readers to your posts. Did you bring your skis?

Monday, January 22, 2007

Dr. Driscoll from Syracuse University and HBRF Discusses Mercury Hotspots on NPR

National Public Radio interviews Dr. Charles Driscoll of Syracuse University one of the research scientists from the recently released Hubbard Brook Research Foundation studies looking into mercury emissions and the potential "hotspots" they can create. This interview is a good primer for those unfamiliar with mercury emissions and their effects on our environment. Follow this link to the NPR site and then click on the "Listen" button.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Cement Industry Meets with OMB and Fights Tougher Mercury Emissions Rules

From Downwinders at Risk - Excerpts follow;

Industry representatives asked the Bush administration yesterday to forego tighter restrictions on mercury and hydrogen chloride (HCI) emissions from cement kilns, saying new regulation was not needed.

"It's deplorable that the cement industry would spend its resources lobbying the White House rather than cleaning up the toxic mess it makes," Frank O'Donnell, director of the nonprofit group Clean Air Watch, said in an e-mail.

But Andrew O'Hare, vice president for regulatory affairs at the Portland Cement Association, said the meeting was to update regulators on what steps the industry had taken to address outstanding concerns. He described mercury as "a more difficult nut to crack for our industry because it's so tied to our raw materials."

You can read this well written article here.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Courting CAMR

The battle over the EPA's controversial Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) is moving to the courts, and in a very big way. Earthjustice representing three major environmental groups, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense and National Wildlife Federation has filed opening briefs with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, challenging the EPA's CAMR.

As recently reported here at Hg-ATME four major health organizations representing over 300,000 health professionals, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association, and Physicians for Social Responsibility have also filed briefs with the same Court also challenging the CAMR.

If that wasn't enough at least sixteen State's Attorneys General including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin and the City of Baltimore, have also filed briefs with the same federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. also challenging the EPA's CAMR. Other health organizations, environmental groups, states and/or cities have already filed their own briefs, or may do so soon, or may join one of these suits.

All the suits allege the same things, perhaps argued in different ways; the EPA abdicated its responsibilities (in effect broke the law) in granting coal burning power plants toxic chemical emission relief, by not forcing most achievable control technologies (MACT) upon the power industry related to the toxin mercury; and the cap-and-trade portion of the CAMR is inappropriate for dealing with a neurotoxin like mercury, because it may contribute to the formation of localized "hotspots," regions of elevated mercury deposition.

All the groups want the Court to force EPA to do the right things and step up to their responsibilities. Immediately put MACT controls in place on coal burning power plants, and eliminate any plans of a cap-and-trade program.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Chlor-Alkali Plant's Mercury Emissions Still a Mystery

The mercury emissions stemming from chlor-alkali plants have long been viewed as some of the most concentrated, and perhaps easiest to stop, to those looking to remove unnecessary mercury emissions from our environment. The "old" chlor-alkali process for manufacturing chlorine uses tons and tons of mercury, a lot of which goes unaccounted for, and it should simply be stopped.

It should be noted that 53 of the 59 chlorine plants in the US have already voluntarily abandoned the "old" processing method that uses mercury and have gone to a mercury free method, and for that the industry should be applauded. One of the remaining plants, the one in Port Edwards, WI recently expressed a desire to switch over and was asking the Public Service Commission in WI for a special electricity rate to help them out. Hg-ATME supported this move in a recent post on this subject.

In a ruling, that may have been sound considering all the related parties, this request for special rates was denied. It would have been nice if just this once PSC could have granted a special case, it would have meant so much, but they didn't want to set a precedent, and probably rightly so. This Pioneer Press article explains the PSC's thinking. I hope that ERCO will continue to look for ways to convert their process.

A recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution details some of the real issues with this manufacturing process. Literally tons and tons of mercury go unaccounted for annually in this seemingly unregulated industry. While some 450 coal burning power plants, consisting of some 1300 generating units, emit an estimated 48 tons of mercury annually in the US, this handful of chlorine plants reported emissions of 6.7 tons themselves in 2005. The AJ-C article also shows how this is probably way underestimated at that.

Major Health Organizations Take CAMR to Higher Court

From PR Newswire for Journalists (subscription required) Excerpt;

Four leading medical, health care and public health groups will continue their legal challenge of three clean air mercury rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by filing a brief no later than Jan. 26 in a lawsuit now assigned to the D.C. Circuit Court. The groups will ask the court to overturn the weak EPA rules, which threaten public health. The organizations, representing more than 300,000 health professionals, are the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Nurses Association (ANA), American Public Health Association (APHA) and Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR).

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to make public health its first and only priority, and the law mandates that these plants reduce their mercury pollution by up to 90 percent of current emission levels by 2008.

Unfortunately, the EPA's final mercury rule delays significant mercury reductions for 10 to 15 years longer than the federal Clean Air Act requires. The rule substitutes an inappropriate "cap-and-trade" scheme for strong technology-based pollution control standards.

You can view the full registration required (free) release here.
Text copy, no registration here.

Friday, January 12, 2007


I have been following the issue of mercury emissions for a couple years now. Since March of 2005 when the EPA released its Clean Air Mercury Rules (CAMR), one of the most debated issues has been whether a cap and trade program, as proposed, was appropriate for a neurotoxin like mercury. Cap and trade policies have worked with SO2 and NOx because these pollutants only caused acid rain that killed downwind lakes and polluted downwind streams, while undesireable and unfortunate, this did not immediately threaten the health of those unlucky people living under those plumes.

But mercury is different, it has well documented detrimental health effects on people, specifically pregnant women and developing children, and common sense tells us it probably adversely effects everyone who accumulates enough of it in our bodies. The toxicity of mercury is what makes it different than those other pollutants.

The opposition argument has been if we have a cap and trade program for mercury some cleaner plants will sell credits to some dirty ones and those dirty ones will emit more mercury and pollute localized areas creating "hotspots" of elevated mercury deposition.

But EPA and proponents of a cap and trade program (mainly the utility industry and its trade associations) have contended that mercury emissions go into the air and float far and wide, globally, adding to all the naturally occurring, Asian, European and other anthropogenic sources of mercury emissions. In other words, if we can reduce the emissions of mercury collectively (reducing the total US emissions) it doesn't matter if some locations remain as high emitters, as long as the total goes down. Well, this week that all changed. A landmark scientific study by the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation has thrown water all over that contention.

Hotspots "do" exist and they can be traced to local sources of mercury pollution.

I cannot emphasize enough how important this discovery is. The fact that local mercury emissions effect local populations almost forces EPA to reconsider the cap and trade portion of its mercury rules. You see, laws (and morality), do not allow us to knowingly penalize some folks and reward others with healthier environments. Federal and state enviromental agencies are charged with protecting all human health, if they knowingly avoid that responsibility and create different classes of citizens (those in clean areas and those in polluted ones) they are facing serious liability issues.

The two HBRF studies (one by Dr. Driscoll et al and the other by Dr. Evers et al) that were released in the January issue of the scientific journal BioScience are must-read material for anyone concerned with mercury in the environment and its effects on human health. Both of these articles can be downloaded from the HBRF site here. I also recommend the Power Point presentation at the same location, it summarizes the findings quite nicely and graphically shows what is happening.

These studies and the ensuing fallout will be the topics of discussion here at Hg-ATME. I invite any and all to voice your opinions here.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Northeast Mercury Pollution Hotspots Identified

From the Adirondack Daily Enterprise

There are five locations in northeastern North America that are considered biological mercury hotspots, and the Adirondack Mountains are one of them.

The Kejimkujik National Park in Nova Scotia, the Upper Connecticut River watershed, the Merrimack River in N.H. and Mass., and the Upper Androscoggin River and Upper Kennebec River watershed of N.H. and Maine, as well as nine other suspected areas which cannot be confirmed until further research is performed, are all at risk.

Read all about the research team that uncovered the data and the reasons these locations, and others like them are uniquely at risk in the full article here.

Pennsylvania Technicality Explained, Not Justified

The little known state agency, The Legislative Reference Bureau, that is standing in the way of recent popular mercury emissions legislation in Pennsylvania, has its position clarified but not fully justified in this editorial from The Sentinel. An excerpt follows; the entire piece can be read here.

The rule in question directs the reduction of mercury emissions at coal-fired power plants by 90 percent. The custom is for such rules to go into effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, but the Legislative Reference Bureau, which prints the Bulletin, refused to publish the rule.

The bureau claims that, because the state Senate adjourned before the 14-day legislative review period was up, the Senate now has an additional 10 days to review the rule under state regulatory law.

It may well be that this particular conflict between regulatory law and the state Constitution simply hasn’t come up before and that all sides are acting in good faith. We’d prefer to think this is the situation, but it seems to us that a pro forma tradition is being used as a pocket veto in this case.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Pennsylvania Rule Faces More Legal Wrangling - The Debate Goes On While the Will of the People is Ignored

From Centre Daily Times

Gov. Ed Rendell's drive to enact tougher restrictions on mercury pollution from Pennsylvania's coal-fired power plants has been blocked by a little-known state agency that publishes a record of administrative actions.

The Legislative Reference Bureau has sided with Senate opponents of Rendell's proposed rule, and refused to publish the text in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. Publication in the bulletin is generally the trigger that puts an administrative rule into effect.

As I said in many earlier posts, this is one state that has a debate that just won't go away. Read the latest in this improbable case.

Recoverd Mercury Stockpiles May Find Permanent Home

We captured this mercury once, let's not let it get back into circulation and possibly end up polluting our air, water and soil.

From the Boston Globe

Massachusetts and other states may soon find a safe place to retire their stockpiles of dangerous mercury collected from thermometers, school science labs, and automobiles.

A Bush administration draft document calls for a strategy to manage all excess mercury stocks outside the federal government, ranging from industrial supplies to those picked up in neighborhood recycling drives.

If the recommendation becomes policy, (Arleen O'Donnell) said, "that will be the first tangible sign we've seen to a long-term commitment to dealing with mercury stockpile issues."

Read the rest of this article here.

This Mercury Emissions Deal Makes Sense To Me

I do not typically go along with sweetheart deals for one industry or company that forces others to make up the difference, but in this case the pluses far outweigh the minuses. The Federal CAMR is directed at the hundreds of coal burning power plants across the country. But several other industries have no mercury emissions regulations whatsoever and because of their reduced numbers do not get the attention that the utility industry has. Recently the cement industry began to feel the Regulatory pinch, albeit late and weak. The chlorine chemical industry has long been known as a terrible mercury polluter and many of the plants have rightfully converted from the old methods involving mercury to more modern technologies. One of the remaining plants in Port Edwards, WI wants to do the right thing and convert but it needs a little help. If 450,000 residential customers each pay $1.50 each per year ERCO will stop emitting 1100 pounds of mercury pollution per year. To me that makes sense.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - JS Online

"It's a win-win on so many fronts - an unprecedented environmental benefit and helping preserve jobs and the local economy," he said. "I feel fortunate that ERCO is willing to invest in the future of our plant with a lot of money. I just hope that we can make this work."

If the ERCO request is approved, the plant conversion would take place by fall 2008 or early 2009.

When fully operational, ERCO would no longer emit any mercury emissions.

"We don't think it's fair for other customers to subsidize this," said Charlie Higley, executive director of the Citizens' Utility Board...

Read the full article here.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

US Plans to Hold on to Surplus Mercury Heralded Internationally

This from Sydney Australia - News-Medical.Net

In response to a letter from Illinois Senator Barack Obama;

Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman cited recognition of health and environmental concerns as prime reasons why DOE "has no current plans to sell" their stockpile of over 1,200 metric tons of mercury.

The December 18 document states that "... the U.S. Government's actions not to sell mercury on the open market sends a positive message to both private and state domestic mercury holders, as well as to global mercury policy makers...By committing to long-term storage of U.S. owned mercury, the U.S. Government can develop a position for the UNEP Governing Council meeting that: 1) Indicates that the U.S. has committed to storing 70% of its stocks, and 2) the U.S. Government has in place a stakeholder process that will develop options for management of its remaining nonfederal stocks of mercury."

Read the full article here.

Nevada Mines Must Start Actually Measuring Mercury Emissions

From the Reno Gazette Journal

For the first time, Nevada precious metal mines this year were required to measure and report mercury released from smokestacks to the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection, the only state with such a requirement.

"We don't think that anybody truly knows what the releases are," Randolph said. "We do think that it's undermonitored and underreported."

Reno-based Glamis Gold Ltd. officials admitted in October they underreported five years of mercury air emissions by more than 434 pounds at the Marigold Mine in Humboldt County. "We weren't trying to hide anything, otherwise we wouldn't have ... re-calculated our emissions," said Joe Danni, vice president of corporate relations for Glamis Gold Ltd.

Read the full story here.

Mercury "Hot Spots" Increase Debate on Cap and Trade Programs

From Scientific American - Sighting Bioscience Magazine January Edition

In some areas the team of U.S. and Canadian researchers, led by David Evers of the BioDiversity Research Institute in Gorham, Maine, found perch containing mercury levels as high as 20 times greater than the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recommended limits.

The research team predicts its results will affect cap-and-trade regulations implemented by the EPA in 2005...

Read the full Scientific American article here.