Monday, February 26, 2007

I'm Back - 9 States Suing EPA - Montana Talking Tough - Pennsylvania Law Finalized - and more!

I go away for a week and the world decides to talk about mercury emissions like crazy.

We knew the EPA Rules regarding portland cement plants was going to come under fire and it has in a big way. Nine States and several Environmental Groups have taken the EPA to court again. In separate filings the Bush administrations EPA is being challenged that its recent ruling, or lack thereof, is in violation of the Clean Air Act. If you follow mercury emissions at all, and I hope you all do, this probably comes as no surprize to you. Hg-ATME reported way back in Dec that the EPA action was really inaction. As Hg-ATME also reported this may be the opportunity to see if EPA violated the Clean Air Act in another way by self-initiating a reconsideration of its rules.

Then, while I'm away, Pennsylvania decides to turn its much debated rule into law by publishing the ruling in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. I follow this States turmoil over mercury emission legislation for months and then I go away for a week and they act like there is no tomorrow. Congratulations!

In some surprising news Montana lawmakers began to get tough on mercury emissions too. An excerpt from the Billings Gazette follows;

The bill to amend state air-quality laws was proposed by Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, and the hearing was held before the House Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications Committee.

House Bill 586 would require existing fossil-fuel or biomass power plants to reduce mercury emissions by at least 90 percent by Jan. 1, 2010.

That is some pretty tough legislation. Other States that have written their own get-tough rules on mercury emissions have gone to the 90% reduction but given plants more time to get there. January 1, 2010 is right around the corner. By being a little more compromising on the time line the Montana legislators that want tough mercury rules may find it easier going. But that is just my opinion, and I could be wrong. Reading the whole article one learns of other concerns about western coal.

And from down under we get some really progressive news. No more incandescent light bulbs in all of Australia starting in 2010. They propose that by going to all fluorescent bulbs the energy savings (and subsequent reduced energy generation and resultng CO2 and mercury emissions) will offset the environmental effects of the small amounts of mercury in the bulbs. Some Aussie Enviros feel they ought to sign on to Kyoto first.

I will continue to look at what is hot news in the world of mercury emissions. I didn't come into contact with any New Hampshire mercury hotspots, at least not as far as I know. Bretton Woods was anything but hot, the skiing was fantastic.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Visiting Some NH Mercury Hotspots

Actually I am traveling to New Hampshire for a ski vacation and will be out touch for a while. If I find a connection and any noteworthy news I will post from there. But most likely I will be on the slopes, in the hot tub and partaking of the food and drink in Bretton Woods. Later all.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

UNEP Governing Council Touts Successes - Mercury Included

The UNEP Governing Council / Global Ministerial Forum held last week in Nairobi was successful on many fronts. As reported last week in Hg-ATME, the 140 governments settled on a voluntary program to reduce the use of mercury in our industries. This despite an overwhelming majority of the nations present supporting an international legally binding agreement. With US, Canada and India leading the opposition the voluntary program will go into effect for the next two years and the issue will be revisited at that point.

Consensus on a global scale is a difficult thing to acheive. I would have felt better if the US and Canada were leaders on the other side of this debate, but small steps internationally are to be applauded. The Press Release on the UNEP site summarizes the accomplishments of this years forum. An excerpt follows;

An enhanced programme to reduce health and environmental threats from toxic mercury pollution was agreed by 140 governments at the close of an international gathering of environment ministers. The decision includes developing partnerships between governments, industry and other key groups to curb emissions of the heavy metal from power stations and mines to industrial and consumer products. After two years, governments will gauge its success and reflect on whether the voluntary initiative has worked or whether negotiations should commence on a new international and legally-binding treaty.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: The mercury decision, along with ones on water, municipal waste and monitoring the state of the global environment to technology support and capacity building for developing countries under the Bali Plan, underlines a new determination by environment ministers to rise to the challenges of our time. For too long environment ministers have met and spoken but their collective voice has not been loudly and decisively heard in the world. This, I believe has changed at this 24th session of the UNEP Governing Council, he added. Mr. Steiner said the new momentum was partly driven by growing global concern over the impacts of globalization and climate change and partly by a new understanding, cemented at the meeting, of the economic importance of natural or nature-based assets.

I can only hope the voluntary programs work, but if they do not, I also hope the ministers can show an even greater determination and put a binding agreement in place. Let's not understate the real success that is going on here. Environmental issues are global issues and having a forum like this start to tackle these issues globally is the right way to go.

The 16 decisions, including the one on mercury, came after five days of discussions against the backdrop of United Nations reform and the request of governments and the Secretary General to deliver as one.

It also came against the backdrop of growing momentum among nations to dramatically improve international environment governance including strengthening UNEP as the global authority and environmental pillar of sustainable development.

Mr. Steiner said it was therefore significant that governments agreed to increase UNEPs core biennium budget from $144 million to $152 million.

Colorado Agreement Clarified

The agreement reached in cooperation between industry, environmental groups and government officials in Colorado has some interesting stipulations. Anyone who has followed Hg-ATME knows I am against cap-and-trade of mercury emissions, but the compromise in Colorado makes sense for them and could be a benchmark for other States. It allows Colorado utilities to buy credits as part of a longer term agreement to significantly reduce mercury emissions at every single plant.

Fort Collins Weekly has a nice article describing the agreement, excerpt below, the full article can be read here.

“The new rules will ensure we begin cleaning-up the worst two mercury polluters immediately,” says Will Coyne, the program director of Environment Colorado in a statement about the ruling.

While the new rules don’t allow the power plants to sell credits for mercury emissions if they reduce their output below the requirements, they allow utilities the option of buying credits from cleaner utilities, including those in other states, if they expect to exceed their emissions for the next several years.
Matt Garrington, field director with Environment Colorado calls the agreement a victory and says that despite the ability to buy credits, utilities will still be required to reduce their mercury emissions.

“All power plants will have to meet the 90 percent reductions,” he says. “This was a compromise to help industry get to that 90 percent reduction. They’ve agreed to this aggressive reduction and we’re not going to penalize them if they’re not there yet.”

Garrington says the ability to buy credits will be retired once all the plants meet the new requirements.

“Colorado will not be participating in the Bush (Administration) proposal to trade mercury pollution credits,” he says. “Under the Bush plan, mercury hotspots would have continued.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

One Man's Theory (Shared by Many) Why GHG & Mercury Emissions Just Don't Get Respect in D.C.

Carl Pope's Post on The Huffington Post is an interesting look into why common sense decisions seem to get steam-rolled by what are clearly becoming the minds of those completely out of touch with reality. Being as I am focused on mercury emissions my favorite point is the one dealing with the recent cement plant decison by EPA, that Hg-ATME covered a while ago.

Even the need to clean up mercury is not conceded in the capital. Ten years ago the Sierra Club began pressuring the EPA to clean up mercury emissions from cement kilns, (which are also a major source of greenhouse pollution). Three times federal courts have ordered the agency to regulate the pollution; most recently, in the face of its own signed agreement that it would finally clean up the emissions, the EPA, in an increasingly characteristic act of arrogance, issued a regulation which IT ADMITS WILL DO NOTHING TO STOP THE MERCURY. (The Sierra Club is back in court, asking for a Contempt of Court ruling.)

The whole article is strongly recommended reading.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Canada Sides With the US - No Support for Binding Legislation on UNEP Mercury Rules

In a move that reminds many environmentalists of the United States' position on the Kyoto Protocol regarding GHGs, last week the Canadian representatives at UNEP in Nairobi, joined the US and India in blocking legally binding legislation attempteing to limit the use of mercury globally.

Most of 58 countries represented, including the European Union, Africa, Japan and Brazil, supported a legally binding treaty.

"We've dropped the ball," said Ken Ogilvie, executive director of Toronto-based Pollution Probe. "We've once again settled into the same camp as the United States ... opposing a binding treaty and calling for voluntary initiatives that we have a hard time delivering effectively."
Canada conceded in documents submitted to the UN Environment Program that "there is sufficient evidence of significant global adverse impacts from mercury ... to warrant further international action to reduce the risks to human health and the environment."
Liberal MP and environment critic David McGuinty said it reminds him of the Conservatives' U.S.-style disdain for the Kyoto Protocol to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"Foolish, very foolish," he said. "I mean, the government heralded its early work on mercury - most of which was done under our previous government.

"I'm reminded of the government in Washington. And that government has aggressively withdrawn from multilateral deals of all kinds over the last eight years.

"They want to simply say: 'We're going it alone.' ... But there's only one atmosphere. There has to be a global solution."

The full article from can be read here.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Mercury Emission Credit Trading Still On Pennsylvania Table?

Yesterday Hg-ATME reported the agreement reached in Pennsylvania settling one of the most contentious battles over mercury emission legislation in the country. It is an apparent victory for environmentalists, citizens in general and everyone downwind of PA coal burning power plants, of which there are many.

Even yesterday we alluded to possible on-going objections by some of the more staunch opponents of this compromise in the PA senate. And today we learn what course that objection may take.

From The Patriot-News /

State Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Venango, chairman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, and Sen. Raphael Musto, D-Luzerne, are ending their efforts to block them -- at least for now. Both had been vigorous opponents of the regulations.

In a letter to Secretary of Environmental Resources Kathleen A. McGinty, White and Musto said they are "confident" they could have garnered legislative support for a resolution to disapprove the mercury regulations, but they concluded it would be "unproductive" to do so.

It is doubtful they could have taken that tact, as even (o)ne of their chief allies in industry was Douglas Biden of the Electric Power Generation Association in Harrisburg. Biden said in essence that White didn't have the votes.

"I did not expect either Senator White or Senator Musto to start a resolution to try to stop them," he said. "I can't disagree with their political judgment. A bill would simply have been a 'just say no' statement."

However these two state representatives are going to try to add to this legislation one of the key points of contention all along and that is "Trading of Toxic Emission Credits".

White and Musto said in their letter to McGinty that they intend to introduce and advance new legislation to impose mercury-emission standards stronger than the EPA rules, but weaker than those of DEP. In essence, every power plant would be required to achieve a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions by 2015, but they would be allowed to trade emission credits to go beyond that.

Biden said DEP was really seeking a 95 percent to 98 percent reduction, and the only way for some power plants to meet that standard was to buy emission credits.

I have been following this issue for a while and nowhere have I seen anyone in any State propose 95% or 98% reductions. This just sounds like rhetoric to get the trading issue back on the table for discussion. As I said in earlier posts, for Pennsylvania, this is one debate that just won't go away.

Even though it appears the PA law would require all plants in PA to acheive the 90% reduction, these senators want PA utilities to be able to sell credits on the open market thus weakening the overall effect of their reductions. It is not good enough for progressive states like PA to limit emissions within their own state it is imperative that they do not allow utilities in other states to buy their good efforts and allow the mercury into the air elsewhere. What good does it do if they sell the credits to Ohio and the mercury comes right back into PA?

The complete Patriot-News article can be read here.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Pennsylvania Agreement - It Is Finally Done, Or Is It?

From Penn Future through the PR Newswire

The final hurdle has been crossed in the long debate over mercury emissions in Pennsylvania. On the heals of Colorado's compromise decision earlier this week, the citizens of Pennsylvania can now count themselves among the lucky ones that have formidable mercury emissions legislation statewide. PennFutrue expresses their pleasure with the outcome, as they have led a fierce fight for this on behalf of babies born and unborn and the community in general. The following are a few excerpts from their Press Release, and I want to personally congratulate them on their victory.

Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) today expressed pleasure that the leaders of the Pennsylvania Senate Environmental Resources and Energy (ERE) Committee bowed to reality and accepted the mercury regulations legally adopted last session. (...) The decision to stop fighting the regulations was announced in a letter to Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Kathleen McGinty from Senators Mary Jo White (R-Venango) and Raphael Musto (D-Luzerne), Chair and Democratic Chair of the ERE Committee.
Jan Jarrett, vice president of PennFuture (said) "Nearly 11,000 Pennsylvanians formally supported the regulations, and more than 100 organizations including health care professionals, people of faith, anglers and hunters, other environmental groups and women's rights groups all were part of the campaign to stop toxic mercury pollution. It is gratifying that the senators have recognized their inability to win a fight on these rules, and have decided to accept the public process and the public will, making this a banner day for public health and for Pennsylvania's environment and economy.

"But we are very concerned that these senators are announcing their intent to open a new front of opposition," Jarrett continued. "Pennsylvania's mercury rule already achieves compromises with industry, accommodating their concerns. We cannot and will not compromise with the health of our most vulnerable.

I too hope that the officials in Pennsylvania let the will of the people of their fine state take precedence over industry interests.

International Forum - GC-24/GMEF Meets in Nairobi, Kenya - Discuss Mercury Emissions Globally

From the 24th Session of the UNEP Governing Council / Global Ministerial Environment Forum as Reported by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)

In a session of the Committee of the Whole on Chemical Management the issue of a global approach to mercury emissions legislation was discussed. The following is an excerpt from that session.

The US stressed that it supported further action on mercury, noting that partnerships are more effective than legally binding mandates. NORWAY said voluntary actions are insufficient, and urged development of a legally binding framework on mercury. Uganda, on behalf of the AFRICA GROUP, voiced its support to the proposal, saying that the binding commitment on mercury should include lead and cadmium. JAPAN spoke in favor of separate action on mercury and suggested establishing an international expert group to consider further action.

Germany, on behalf of the EU, reiterated the importance of a legally binding instrument, and said that voluntary initiatives have not led to reduced use of mercury. BRAZIL suggested examining a fund within a legally binding instrument to assist developing countries. AUSTRALIA proposed making a full analysis of possible responses. CANADA said it sees no need for additional work on lead and cadmium, and prefers concentrating on mercury.

Note that the US continues to support voluntary approaches to managing the problem while most other nations want a legally binding solution. You can read the summary of the forum sessions here. This particular discussion is from the Committee of the Whole.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Colorado Compromise - Coal & Communities Coexist

In a State known for its pristine beauty, another beautiful thing has emerged, 'compromise.' Hg-ATME has been following the Colorado debate over mercury emissions for the last few months and now, yesterday, it appears the parties on all sides have agreed. These excerpts and the rest of the article from the CBS 4 website highlight just how utilities, environmental groups and government can work together to do what is right for their communities.

"We found as we talked that we saw we weren't as far apart as we thought we had been," said Jim Sanderson, an attorney representing a coalition of utilities.
Vickie Patton, an attorney with Environmental Defense, gave a great deal of credit to the utilities for the compromise.

"Colorado power companies were an incredible voice of leadership in coming forward to provide very significant mercury emissions standards," Patton said.

The details of the agreement (from Environment Colorado) show what a true compromise is all about.

Specifically, the new rules will do the following:

• require two largest coal-fired power plants and emitters of mercury pollution, the Pawnee and Rawhide energy stations, to begin clean-up immediately and reduce mercury pollution 80% by 2012;

• require all coal plants to reduce mercury pollution 80% by 2014, and then 90% by 2018; and

• prevent coal-fired power plants in Colorado from selling mercury pollution “trading credits” to other polluters and encouraging mercury “hot spots” to stay polluted.

Both sides gave in some and thus both sides got a lot back. And the people of Colorado and everyone else downwind are the big winners. We need more States to follow in these footsteps.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Begins EPA Oversight Hearing

From EarthJustice

Washington, D.C. -- Today, the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), will conduct an oversight hearing on recent decisions at the Environmental Protection Agency.
The following is a statement by Earthjustice attorney James Pew.
"We applaud the Senate EPW committee and Senator Boxer for making the EPA Administrator at last give some explanation for this agency's attempts to allow polluters to increase their toxic emissions. Pollutants such as mercury, dioxins and PCBs continue to be emitted without any limitation whatsoever from thousands of unregulated facilities each year.

Read the full EarthJustice article here.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Colorado Groups Work Hard Together & Reach Agreement

From The Rocky Mountain News

The agreement, hailed by Gov. Bill Ritter, reflects a significant compromise by industry.

"Colorado's electricity providers deserve enormous credit for their commitment to sweeping reductions in mercury," said Vickie Patton, a senior attorney for Environmental Defense and frequent industry critic who helped negotiate the deal.

It was reported in Hg-ATME earlier that these groups had twice delayed releasing their proposal because they still had some details to work out. This agreement seems to have been worth the wait. With public health at stake I see no reason other States can't find similar common ground. You can read the full RMN article here.

And this from the Denver Post.

"This is a momentous achievement for human health and the environment in Colorado," said Vickie Patton, a Boulder-based attorney for Environmental Defense.

"The result is landmark for Colorado because it will reduce a toxic air pollutant," she said. "It's also a big step forward in people working together in ways they haven't worked together for many years."

Full DP article here.

Norway, Switzerland, Senegal, Gambia and Iceland Propose Int'l Treaty at UNEP Includes Mercury Emissions

From Kyodo News

Five countries are set to propose creating an international treaty to combat worldwide heavy-metal pollution at a U.N. Environment Program board meeting beginning Monday in Nairobi, Japanese government sources said Saturday.

Norway, Switzerland, Senegal, Gambia and Iceland will propose setting numerical targets to reduce mercury emissions and regulating heavy-metal exports, the sources said.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Desert Rock Promises 90% Mercury Reduction

The controversial Desert Rock Energy plant proposed for the Four Corners area is promising a 90% reduction in mercury emissions but local groups are still skeptical partly because this is not in a formal operating permit.

"Without it being in the permit, it's not enforceable," said Mary Uhl of the Environment Department's Air Quality Bureau.
Frank Maisano, spokesman for Sithe Global, said the agreement will be made formal. For example, he said, the company could enter into an agreed order - similar to a permit - with the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency.

You can read the full Arizona Daily Star article here.

Four Down, Five To Go - Really 54 Down 5 To Go

As was reported by Hg-ATME earier this week the Pioneer chlorine plant in St. Gabriel, LA is proposing to eliminate mercury cell technology from its process thus removing forever the hundreds of pounds of mercury emitted each year using that ancient technology.

Oceana is pointing out this same fact but titled their piece "Four Down, Five To Go." In actuality now 54 of the nationwide 59 chlorine plants will have converted. Oceana has been tirelessly working this industry and it is paying off big time.

Way to go Oceana, and way to go Pioneer.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

A Little Mercury Emission Humor

From the Reno Independant Media Center

Did You Hear the One About Mercury Pollution?
Activists are hoping a big green and white billboard and a little dose of humor will drive home their point about mercury pollution in Nevada. Dan Randolph with Great Basin Mine Watch says the billboard uses a little joke about a side effect of mercury pollution to call attention to one of the state's biggest health hazards.
"Most people when they think of mercury pollution, think of coal fired power plants, but here in Nevada the mines are a much bigger source. They formed the top mercury hot spot in the US."

The joke and the rest of the article can be read here.