Wednesday, March 28, 2007

On The Southern Front - Georgia Making a Move Toward Stricter Mercury Emissions Legislation

In a move more reminiscent of its northern counterparts, Georgia leads a southern charge for tougher rules regarding mercury emissions. It could be a trend setter because other southern States have concerned citizen groups and some legislators already campaigning for similar legislation in their states too.

An excerpt from The Atlanta Journal Constitution follows;

Georgia is expected to have one of the toughest mercury-reduction rules in the Southeast under a proposal presented Tuesday to the Board of Natural Resources.
"It really is a substantial contribution to the environment in Georgia," Georgia Power's Ronald Just told the DNR board.

Not a lot of details forthcoming yet but its the thought that counts and it appears this trial balloon is meeting with mostly positive reaction. Read the full article here.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Debate Rages in Wisconsin


The Wisconsin Utilities Association says it will fight proposed new clean air rules from the Department of Natural Resources that DNR believes will result in a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions from Wisconsin’s coal-fired power plants by 2020.
Bill Skewes, head of the WUA, said mercury pollution is a worldwide phenomenon and that Wisconsin utilities contribute only 1/40th of 1 percent of the total mercury pollution in the global airstream.

He also said the idea of localized “hot spots” coming from individual power plants has been disputed by scientific studies. And he said Wisconsin utilities need the trading feature as the “best way” to pay to meet state and federal rules.

“We need that economic flexibility,” he said.
Keith Reopelle, program director for Clean Wisconsin, praised the proposed rules. But he said he is somewhat disappointed that the 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions would not occur until 2020.

He said a similar Illinois regulation takes effect in 2012.“Waiting to 2020 is too long,” he said. “But we are glad they want don’t want to participate in the cap and trade program because we believe mercury emissions from Wisconsin utilities affects Wisconsin lakes and streams.”

It is the same story all over the country, industry (mainly the ultilities) are against tough mercury legislation saying it is too expensive. Environmental regulators striving to protect their constituents as the law requires. Legislators trying to craft legislation to the benefit of citizens and industry alike.

Some very tough battles have been fought over these lines like in Pennsylvania, where PennFuture lead a successful campaign for tough mercury laws. Other States seemed to find common ground without a lot of fighting like Illinois whose new compromise laws were approved yesterday.

All my best material comes from these discussions and I hope that the good folks in Wisconsin can find some common ground on which to agree. You all know my position on cap-and-trade, it is inappropriate when dealing with a toxic material like mercury. The debate about hotspots has recently been proven and local citizens' health should not be bartered or traded on the open market.

The full article can be read here.

Nevada Groups Settle on Mercury Legislation for Mining Sector

From Nevada Appeal, excerpt below;

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, managed Monday to bring parties from the miners to environmentalists together to support legislation tightening controls over mercury emissions from Nevada mines.

AB115 originally drew protests from those groups, but Leslie told the Assembly Commerce and Labor Committee those issues have been resolved by amendments that essentially rewrite the bill.
The amended bill provides additional regulations to improve worker health and safety in Nevada mines. It also adds two inspectors to the Division of Mines, who will make unannounced visits to mines in the state to make sure they are following rules designed to prevent mercury spills and emissions both in the water and air.
Steve Robinson of the governor's staff said with that support, Gov. Jim Gibbons will also support the legislation. He said the compromise is proof the state "can address environmental concerns and still have a healthy mining industry."

Kyle Davis, of the Nevada Conservation League, said that organization supports the bill as "something we can all get behind and that will make a difference."

Compromise is such a sweet thing. You can read the full article here.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Illinois Rule Passes Final Approval & Goes Into Effect

My home State of Illinois passes some of the toughest mercury legislation in the country, but with some industry compromises. It takes compromise to get meaningful legislation through and this Bill is no different. To acheive 90% reductions by 2009 may not be possible, but that doesn't mean we should not try. All of the major utility players in Illinois have signed on to do just that, but if they fall short and demonstrate a true and honest effort, they get some extensions to reach the goal. No cap-and-trade involved.

An excerpt from a fellow blogger follows;

With today?s approval by the Illinois General Assembly?s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, Governor Blagojevich?s proposal to cut 90% of the mercury pollution coming out of Illinois coal plants by 2009 will go into effect. This is a historic victory to dramatically reduce a dangerous neurotoxin that threatens the brains and nervous systems of Illinois children.

The full post can be read here.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Part and Parcel to Any Meaningful Mercury Emissions Reduction Legislation Is Defensible Measurement - Enter The CAMR SuperGroup

As we follow the path of mercury legislation around the country and the globe we hear about reductions of 80% or 90% and forget to give the topic of measurement much thought. How can you determine if 90% reductions are being acheived if you don't have believable means to measure mercury emissions.

Whether we follow the Federal CAMR or any of the State laws mandating mercury reductions plant owners / operators, and regulators need to know if compliance is being met. We need to have monitoring capabilities to meet this challenge and the CAMR SuperGroup is dedicated to meeting this challenge.

There are several companies working on measurement solutions and they all benefit from this open forum of regulators, plant operators, testing companies and other instrument manufacturers. Measuring Hg emissions is not a slam-dunk. There are issues of detection limits, calibration, Relative Accuracy, lost data procedures, total vs. elemental and a whole myriad other details that need to be settled.

Next week in Atlanta is the third gathering of the CAMR SuperGroup and the agenda is full of topical discussions on these and other issues. I may attend this conference, if I can get clearance from the tower, but if I cannot I will certainly report on what goes on, as I will have Hg-ATME operatives there (someone else from my company is already attending).

One more thing, on the SuperGroup's site there is a list of past topics (from previous gatherings) and the powerpoints that went with them in pdf form. You can catch up on what's hot that way. They were also nice enough to link back to Hg-ATME, thanks.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Huge New Mercury Pathway to Our Oceans Unearthed

We were surprised by how much mercury we detected in Waquoit Bay,” said Lamborg. “We thought, ‘this can’t be right,’ and went back to the lab to check the results several times. We realized that if these numbers are right, then something unusual must be going on.”

After checking and rechecking their methods and data, the research team found total mercury concentrations that were an order of magnitude (at least 10 times) higher than what should be deposited by simple outfall from the atmosphere, and substantially more mercury than could flow in from local streams. The source had to be submarine groundwater pushing mercury out from the sediments.

This shocking revelation from a research team from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, MA. They were looking into mercury contamination in Waquoit Bay in Falmouth, MA. Their study was focused on total mercury, not the toxic forms like methyl mercury. But this is still very important because elemental mercury is transformed into its toxic forms by bacteria and other microbes. So it actually may be present in high concentrations in these toxic forms too, but more research will be required to prove or disprove that possibility.

Hg-ATME is focused on mercury emissions and technically this pathway is through the groundwater and not from industrial emissions. But I would suggest that a good portion of that mercury eminated from power plant stacks and other point sources, fell to the ground in precipitous fashion and percolated down into our groundwater table and migrated toward the sea. So, in essence, this is related to mercury emissions.

More excerpts from the News Service story follow.

Woods Hole, Massachusetts (Mar 21, 2007 13:06 EST) Researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have found a new and substantial pathway for mercury pollution flowing into coastal waters. Marine chemists have detected much more dissolved mercury entering the ocean through groundwater than from atmospheric and river sources.
The lead author of the study is Sharon Bone, a former undergraduate summer student fellow and research assistant in the laboratory of WHOI marine chemist Matt Charette. Bone is now a first-year graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley.

The findings were published online on March 21 by the journal Environmental Science and Technology and will appear in a printed issue later this spring.

Mercury pollution comes mostly from industrial emissions to the atmosphere, especially from coal burning. After getting into the air, mercury particles eventually precipitate with rain or snow onto the land or directly into the oceans. Inland deposits of mercury are also weathered and carried to the coast in runoff from streams and rivers, where they accumulate in the sediments that build up along the shoreline.

This very interesting article can be read in its entirety here.

Maryland to Join Other States and Environmental Groups Seeking a Stricter Federal CAMR

From the Baltimore Sun

Reversing a decision by the last governor, Gov. Martin O'Malley has decided to have Maryland join 16 other states in suing the Bush administration to try to force tougher federal regulations to control mercury air pollution.

"We have a new governor and a new attorney general who concur that participation in this case is important to protect the state's interest to safeguard its water resources and the health of its citizens," said Shari T. Wilson, the state's environment secretary.
Two years ago, then-state Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. wanted to join the lawsuit against Bush to force all power plants to install the best available pollution control equipment. But former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. blocked Curran from filing the suit.

You can read the full Baltimore Sun article here.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Allen Pitches House Version of Obama's Senate Bill Banning Exports of Mercury

It seems to be just common sense that since we are struggling with limiting the amount of mercury we release into our environment from all man-made activities that we would try to stop the distribution of the toxin altogether. Yet for all the U.S. has done, and proposes to do in the near future, the U.S. is still a leader in the export of mercury around the world.

Illinois Senator, and 2008 Democratic Presidential candidate, Barack Obama introduced a Bill into the Senate last week called The Mercury Export Ban Act that will hopefully end that dubious distinction.

“The more we learn about mercury, the more we discover how harmful it is to our health,” said Senator Barack Obama. “While the United States has become more vigilant in collecting and containing mercury, it remains one of the leading exporters of this dangerous product. This legislation would cause the U.S. to lead by example, encouraging other nations to protect public health by eliminating their dependence on mercury.”

Now the House version of the Bill is being presented by Maine Rep Tom Allen. By banning exports from the large US stockpiles the price of mercury should go up on world markets forcing users to look for alternatives in its place. It only makes sense if there are alternatives to seek them out. There are already many bans on mercury containing products being passed and discussed around the country.

Also, Tom Allen from Maine is sponsoring another Bill aimed at reducing mercury pollution. This one,

... the Comprehensive National Monitoring Program Establishment Act, co-sponsored by Rep Jim Walsh from N.Y., would create a national protocol for monitoring mercury pollution of soil, water and living organisms. This monitoring system, Allen hopes, would address the recently discovered problem of mercury "hotspots" downwind from mercury-emitting power plants. Dr. David Evers of the Biodiversity Research Institute in Gorham, one of the scientists that discovered numerous hotspots across New England, gave input during the drafting of this bill.

This Bill is in support of Maine's Senator Susan Collins' Bill introduced into the Senate last week. It is not surprising to see strong pushes for more action on mercury emissions and mercury monitoring from the State of Maine. Maine is the location of recently discovered mercury hotspots and sits at the farthest east location downwind of all the industrial pollution.

The excerpt just above is from The Portsmouth Herald's Sea Coast Online, the full article is here. And the excerpt further up the column is from
All American Patriots and a link to that article is here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle Pushes 90% by 2020 Mercury Emission Reductions and Opt-Out of Trading

From The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Following up on a campaign pledge by Gov. Jim Doyle, the Department of Natural Resources proposed new regulations on Thursday that would lead to a 90% reduction in mercury output at electric generating plants in Wisconsin by 2020.

The proposal exceeds reductions required under current state law.

A key feature of the new regulations calls for Wisconsin to opt out of a national trading program that would let utilities buy their way out of the reductions.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state's largest business group, said the regulations will increase electricity costs, which will make the state less competitive.

"I can guarantee you that China isn't going to do this," said Scott M. Manley, director of environmental policy for the group.

Read the rest of the article here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Maine Senator Susan Collins (R) to Introduce Mercury Monitoring Legislation to Develop Defensible Mercury Emissions Data

Senator Collins of Maine has long contended the EPA's computer model used in forming its CAMR was flawed, or at least not peer-reviewed. Since recent studies have found the existence of regional mercury hotspots the concern is that cap-and-trade policy is also flawed. She will co-sponsor legislation next week to fund a comprehensive national monitoring program of mercury in our environment. An excerpt from Energy Central Professional (subscription required) and the AP follows;

This legislation would authorize $18 million in fiscal year 2008, $13 million in fiscal year 2009, $14 million in fiscal year 2010, and additional funding through 2013 for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), United States Geological Survey, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to create a nationwide mercury monitoring program. The legislation would establish mercury monitoring sites across the nation in order to measure mercury levels in the air, rain, soil, lakes and streams, and in plants and animals. The legislation would provide new data to help address the flaws in EPA`s existing mercury data, based largely on a computer model, which was used to justify the flawed Clean Air Mercury Rule issued in 2005.

"This legislation would create a comprehensive nationwide mercury monitoring network to provide sound mercury measurements that EPA sorely needs," said Senator Collins. "I was deeply troubled by the computer data which EPA used to justify its mercury rule. This data was neither peer- reviewed nor verified with scientific measurements, and yet EPA used as the basis for its mercury rule which does not account for mercury hotspots and which places children and pregnant women at risk. Hopefully, the new measurements provided by this legislation will form the basis for a new mercury rule which adequately protects human health and environment." Senators Collins and Lieberman met with EPA Administrator Johnson in 2005 in order to express concerns over the EPA`s proposed Clean Air Mercury Rule. At that time, Johnson misrepresented the mercury problem based on computer measurements which were not peer-reviewed and which were not verified with scientific measurements.

The full AP / ECP article can be read here (subscription may be required).

EPA Slammed in Appeals Court Over Cement Kilns Ruling

From the New York Times, excerpt.

WASHINGTON, March 13 — A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rebuked the Environmental Protection Agency in a decision Tuesday, indicating that the regulators had flouted Congress and the courts in setting the standards governing hazardous air pollution emissions from plants making bricks and ceramics.
“If the Environmental Protection Agency disagrees with the Clean Air Act’s requirements for setting emission standards it should take its concerns to Congress,” the judges wrote in an unusually pointed final paragraph.

And from the Wall Street Journal this brief also citing the AP and the NYT.

The Bush administration is being sued by Michigan, Illinois and six East Coast states that accuse the White House of failing to adequately regulate emissions of mercury and other pollutants from cement plants, the Associated Press reports. The states say a rule issued in 2005 by the Environmental Protection Agency doesn't comply with the federal Clean Air Act because the agency stopped short of imposing strict limits on toxic mercury from the kilns. Separately, a three-judge U.S. Appeals Court panel rebuked the EPA for flouting Congress and the courts with the standards it set for hazardous emissions from plants that make bricks and ceramics, the New York Times reports. The panel said the EPA was ignoring a federal appellate opinion that ordered it to follow instructions from the Clean Air Act for setting such emission standards for kilns that "collectively emit more than 6,440 tons of toxic acids and small soot, which can cause breathing difficulties, organ damage and cancer," the Times says.

This issue has been followed closely by Hg-ATME and this ruling is the correct one that rights a previous wrong. The Clean Air Act is clear and the EPA must follow Congress's laws as passed, and this court ruling makes that very clear. The full NYT article can be read here.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The Madison Declaration on Mercury Pollution & Some Personal Thoughts

It really doesn't get any bigger than this. We have been talking about mercury emissions and their effects on our environment and the people and animals that live therein for a long time. I have been focused on legislation and other efforts by those concerned with this issue and I have learned a heck of a lot in the process.

But the Madison Declaration is big. It's big because of the International consensus it represents, it's big because the findings are rooted in good sound science, it's big because it moves the debate beyond pregnant women and developing children, it's big because it is a global warning and, personally, it's big because it was back in July/August last year when I first started reading about the Eighth International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant that got me thinking about this Blog. I started this blogging effort in November but I will always remember when I read about the world gathering in Madison, WI to debate this issue that I knew it was worthy of a Blog.

Now seven months later their findings come out and support much of what I have been blogging about since November. The complete findings have been released in the latest edition of Ambio, although summaries of the findings have been floating around the internet for a day or two. To view the recent issue of Ambio you need to register and subscribe, but abstracts of all the articles in this Mercury dedicated issue can be read here.

An excerpt from EurekAlert follows, the full release is recommended here.

Developed at the Eighth International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant last August in Madison, Wis., the declaration is a synopsis of the latest scientific knowledge about the danger posed by mercury pollution. It presents 33 principal findings from five synthesis papers prepared by the world's leading mercury scientists and published in the same issue of Ambio. The declaration and supporting papers summarize what is currently known about the sources and movement of mercury in the atmosphere, the socioeconomic and health effects of mercury pollution on human populations, and its effects on the world's fisheries and wildlife.

Five other major findings in the declaration were:

  1. On average, three times more mercury is falling from the sky today than before the Industrial Revolution 200 years ago as a result of the increasing use of mercury and industrial emissions.
  2. The uncontrolled use of mercury in small-scale gold mining is contaminating thousands of sites around the world, posing long-term health risks to an estimated 50 million inhabitants of mining regions. These activities alone contribute more than 10 percent of the mercury in Earth's atmosphere attributable to human activities today.
  3. Little is known about the behavior of mercury in marine ecosystems and methylmercury in marine fish, the ingestion of which is the primary way most people at all levels of society worldwide are exposed to this highly toxic form of mercury.
  4. Methylmercury exposure now constitutes a public health problem in most regions of the world.
  5. Methylmercury levels in fish-eating birds and mammals in some parts of the world are reaching toxic levels, which may lead to population declines in these species and possibly in fish populations as well.
Another excerpt from Isthmus - The Daily Page follows, full article here.

Isthmus examined this issue in a local context in advance of the conference, looking particularly at the risks mercury in Madison's lakes poses to persons fishing for food. Seven months later, the declaration summarizes the papers delivered to the conference by many of the world's leading experts on human health risks associated with mercury contamination in fish, and endorsed by all members of the panels that vetted the pronouncement.

Among the document's central conclusions:

  • Dietary exposure to fish contaminated with mercury poses health risks pervasive enough to support global public advisories regarding which fish to eat and how much fish to consume -- with special urgency to communicate the advisory to women of child-bearing age and their children, due to fetuses' and children's heightened developmental vulnerability to mercury's potent neurotoxic effects.
  • Dietary exposure to the potent fish-borne neurotoxin methylmercury has become a public-health threat to most regions of the world.
  • Methylmercury toxicity in fish-eating birds and mammals in some regions of the world may be approaching levels that could result in population declines for some species.
  • Due to industrial emissions and other increased uses of the element, the average amount of mercury falling from the skies onto land and water is three times what it was before the Industrial Revolution.
  • Unregulated mercury use in thousands of small gold-mining operations around the globe accounts for more than 10% of human contributions toward atmospheric mercury loads, exposing an estimated 50 million people to long-term health consequences.
  • More study is needed regarding the behaviors of mercury in marine environments and marine fish.

The importance of this cannot be overstated, the world needs to act now. I am certain the momentum that has been building nationally and Internationally will facilitate major strides in this effort in the coming months and years. I only regret not attending the Madison Mercury Conference last year, I can only hope it is as close to me the next time it convenes.

Jacksonville, Florida Local Efforts To Tie Mercury Emissions Reductions to Rate Increases

Another Mercury Blogger "Mercury Falling" in Jacksonville, FL is petitioning the City Council to tie rate increases by their local utility to mandatory mercury reductions in the same percentage. Dan thinks following the Federal CAMR is not good enough, and because of the cap-and-trade allowance, will potentially lead to a worse situation locally.

I agree with Dan's concerns, but feel if rates go up 10% and thus mercury reductions only go down 10% it will take too long, or cost too much, to get to where they should be anyway. Other States like Illinois, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, etc. have passed State laws mandating 90% reductions in mercury emissions with no cap-and-trade allowances with timeframes much faster than CAMR. This may not be politically possible in Florida, and every effort locally, statewide, nationally and internationally to reduce mercury pollution should be applauded.

Global mercury contamination in our environment is now getting the attention it deserves. My next post will address the recently released findings of the Eighth International Conference on Mercury as a Global Pollutant, held last August in Madison, WI. Keep up the fight Dan, and all you others, remember "think globally, act locally," it is the best we all can do.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Most Mercury Emission News Coming From Out West - Montana and Nevada in Focus

The news this week is mostly coming from our Western States. It appears the Montana House Bill 586, by Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Rocky Boy, to impose new mercury emission standards on power plants, is dead before it got going. As Hg-ATME reported earlier this was some very aggressive legislation that probably needs some refinement before gaining majority support.

Another interesting article from the Big Sky State is a piece found in The New West by a seemingly knowledgeable (seemingly, only because I don't know him personally) guest writer, Joe Kerkvliet. Joe's article details some of the downfalls inherent in the recent EPA rules regarding portland cement plants. Hg-ATME has discussed this issue before but moreso on the legality of the rules and whether they meet the letter or intent of the Clean Air Act.

Excerpt follows, but I strongly recommend the whole article to anyone interested in the cement plant debate.

EPA’s grandfathering is bad policy because it tilts the playing field in favor of existing plants. By doing so, EPA fails to regulate the largest sources of mercury emissions in the cement industry. Worse, the grandfathering rule will probably result in more mercury emissions than no rule at all. (Emphasis added)
Another unintended, but sadly inevitable, result of grandfathering is to make environmental regulation increasingly litigious. Reconstruction review is part and parcel of grandfathering because of the need to distinguish between grandfathered and new plants.

Joe is right on many accounts and his perspective is very easy to understand. I suggest reading the full article here.

The Nevada DEP recently announced its first enforcement action against a gold mine under its new pollution standards. This excerpt from Channel 4 in Carson City and the AP.

Nevada's program to control emissions of toxic mercury from gold mines has just issued its first citation, but pending legislation would result in more efforts to curb mining pollution.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie of Renor has authored legislation to establish Nevada's first cap on mercury emissions from mines and require at least a one-quarter reduction of those emissions in five years.

The full article is here.