Friday, May 25, 2007

Wisconsin Grapples With Mercury Emission Regulations

The State of Wisconsin has been holding public hearings over the last couple weeks on how the State should move forward on mercury emissions. There are voices on both sides of the issue and the process seems to working out well. All parties agree that lower mercury emissions from coal fired utilities is a good thing, it is just a matter of how far and how fast that is debated.

The same thing has happened all around the country with some States enacting tough mercury laws mandating 90% reductions in emissions over shorter periods, and other States opting to follow the Federal CAMR, allowing emissions reductions on the order of 68 - 70% over the course of a decade or more.

Some of the comments in WI follow. From WISC in Madison;

The Sierra Club said it wants a 90 percent reduction in mercury pollution by the year 2012.
"Let's leave a legacy to the people that this group, us, this age, right now, cares about our earth and does something immediately," said Chuck Rolfsmeyer, of the Bass Federation and Fishing Expo. Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois have all enacted rules to fight mercury pollution, WISC-TV reported.

From the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce;

CAMR establishes standards of performance limiting mercury emissions from new coal-fired power plants, and creates a market-based "cap and trade" program that will reduce utility emissions of mercury from existing plants in two phases. CAMR is the best option for Wisconsin, and WMC supports the adoption of Wisconsin CAMR as a means to mitigate the rate impact associated with mercury emission reductions from electric utilities.

And this from the Op-Ed by David Zweifel, the Editor of the Capitol Times.

...the DNR was ordered to revisit the mercury standards issue after the feds decided what to do.

Not surprisingly, the Bush administration's Environmental Protection Agency has erred on the power plants' side. Its standards are even more lenient -- a 70 percent reduction by the year 2018.
The Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the United Steelworkers Union and others all pleaded with the DNR to require the state's utilities to reduce mercury emissions by some 90 percent by 2012.
The quicker we get the mercury pollutants reduced, the quicker it will help not only Wisconsin's fishing tourism, but the safety of folks who love to catch and eat their own fish.
Interestingly, even Illinois has tougher standards than Wisconsin's current rules calling for 75 percent reduction by 2015.

Who's opposing tougher standards? Some, but not all, of the power companies, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which, of course, doesn't like anything that might increase power plant costs.

The Sierra Club's Feyerherm explained that the cost that would be passed on to ratepayers would amount to just over $12 a year -- $1.03 per month.

That's a small price to pay to help clean up a major problem.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Hong Kong Includes Mercury in Proposed New Rules

This snippet from The Standard.

The Advisory Council on the Environment has proposed to the government a new set of standards to assess land contamination in Hong Kong.
"Current standards to assess land contamination, adopted in 1994 and based on the Dutch B levels, are outdated and even the Netherlands no longer uses such assessment criteria."
The chemicals include the cancer- causing dioxins and 15 types of metals such as mercury and lead, according to the council's 80-page proposal.

The full posting is here.

Nevada Mines Mercury Emissions Testing Continues

From the Nevada Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources. Full article here.

The initial phase of mercury emissions testing at Nevada’s largest precious metal mines is nearing completion, and the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) reports that the program is on schedule and working as expected.
“The initial testing results do indeed show that the units are emitting different forms of mercury,” said Colleen Cripps, Ph.D., deputy administrator of NDEP in charge of air programs. “We have not seen any unexpected events, considering the high level of sophisticated testing involving a complex industrial process. In short, the regulatory program is working as we expected.”

This is unique as these are the only mines in the country to perform this type of testing. The preliminary results are interesting and tend to support the early concerns. The issue is discussed in greater detail in the Las Vegas Sun article here. Excerpt follows.

Tests found the presence of an oxidized, vaporous form of mercury, but further tests are needed to determine how much.

"The oxidized form is the most reactive form, the form that is deposited more locally. That's the one that could potentially make it into Nevada waterways," Pistone said.

The Assembly this week unanimously approved AB115, which would require higher fees of mining companies to pay for two new positions at NDEP to regulate mercury emissions. The proposal has support from Gov. Jim Gibbons, Pistone said.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Indiana Going With Fed Minimums, But Debate Continues As Deadline Looms

As we reported last week it appears the State of Indiana has decided to adopt the Federal Standards for CAMR compliance. This pleases the folks on the industry side but has re-energized those that would like to see stricter regulations and a faster timeline. Two articles, one from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, and one from the South Bend Tribune highlights this debate.

Excerpts follow;

One of the worst offenders when it comes to mercury emissions is coal-burning power plants. Indiana gets about 95 percent of its electricity from coal and has about 23 coal-fueled power plants.

Indiana is also notorious for having some of the worst mercury-polluting power plants in the nation. In a 2005 study from the Environmental Integrity Project listing the 50 dirtiest power plants in the country, Indiana was the site of six.

The mercury-emission rule adopted last week calls for a 66 percent cut by 2018. Environmental advocates were trying to persuade the state’s pollution control board to reduce emissions 90 percent by 2010. The deeper cuts are needed because of the amount of mercury released in Indiana – more than three tons in 2005. And because the federal rule allows polluters to bank emission credits, the state more likely won’t meet the 66 percent reduction in mercury emissions until 2025, not 2018.

The full Gazette article is here.

Stan Pinegar, vice president of the Indiana Energy Association, told the board that the Environmental Protection Agency's minimum mercury rule will cost the Indiana power utilities $64 million to $68 million a year.

In contrast, he said the Hoosier Environmental Council's 90 percent proposal would cost $207 million to $373 million a year. Such a costly cut would end the low electricity rates the state enjoys from burning its plentiful coal deposits, helping to fuel Indiana's economic development, Pinegar said.

"This is how we're selling our state," said Pinegar, whose group is the trade association for Indiana's utility companies.

The full Tribune article is here.

Friday, May 4, 2007

There's Gold In Them Thar Mercury Detectors (Gold Nanoparticles That Is)

This is really neat. Previously when scientists wanted to check a body of water for mercury contamination they would have to take samples back to the lab for analysis by sophisticated lab instruments. These scientists at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, near where I grew up in Rogers Park, have discovered a way to use nanoparticles of gold, and some specially crafted DNA to create a simple "litmus test" for mercury.

It sounds sort of simple but I can gaurantee if you read this full article from EurekAlert you'll realize how ingenious this was. An excerpt follows.

The Northwestern method takes advantage of gold's intense color when the metal is measured on the scale of atoms. Mirkin and his team started with gold nanoparticles, each just 15 nanometers in diameter, held together by complementary strands of DNA. Because they are held together within a certain critical distance, the gold nanoparticles -- and the solution they are in -- are blue. When the solution is heated, the DNA breaks apart, and the gold nanoparticles, no longer in close proximity to each other, are now bright red.

Knowing that mercuric ion binds selectively to the bases of a thymidine-thymidine (T-T) mismatch, the researchers designed each strand of DNA, which is attached to a gold nanoparticle, to have a single thymidine-thymidine (T-T) mismatch. If mercury is present in the solution it binds tightly to the T-T mismatch site.

The key to the technology is that the blue to red color change occurs at 46 degrees Celsius if the solution has no mercury, and it occurs at a higher temperature if mercury is present.

"When mercury binds to the T-T mismatch site it is like adding some superglue -- the gold nanoparticles are now held together even more tightly," said Mirkin. "The mercury creates a stronger bond that requires a higher temperature to break apart the DNA strands."

See, I told you it was simple. Yeah, right.

EU Closes In On Mercury Export Ban

Excerpt from EU Business follows. Full article here.

Environmental and health NGOs welcomed the results of the 1st reading vote from the Environment and Public Health Committee of the European Parliament on the proposed regulation to ban EU mercury exports and ensure the safe storage of surplus mercury. The Committee made a number of improvements to the original Commission proposal.

"The proposals from the parliamentarian responsible for the file to really strengthen the regulation got a significant degree of support", said Elena Lymberidi, the EEB's Project Coordinator of the Zero Mercury Campaign. "The Committee gave a clear signal that the scope of the export ban should be opened up to include certain mercury compounds, as well as those mercury-containing products which are prohibited for sale in the EU."

Indiana To Follow Fed Guidelines on Mercury Emissions, No State Tightening

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indiana Air Pollution Control Board voted 7-4 Wednesday to move forward with the federal minimum in mercury emissions reductions rather than a more stringent regulation sought by environmental advocates.
Under the rule, Indiana would follow the minimum Clean Air Mercury Rule, which would require a 66 percent reduction in Indiana’s mercury emissions by 2018.

Testimony from both sides Wednesday noted, though, that because the rule allows the banking of emission credits, the reduction likely won’t be achieved until 2025.

The Hoosier Environmental Council instead pushed for a 90 percent reduction by 2010.

Both sides met for months to reach a compromise and could not.

Read the full article here.

Clancy, The Mercury Sniffing Dog

Just about the time you think you have heard it all, along comes a story that makes you laugh and scratch your head all at the same time. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) has a new mercury investigator and he works fairly cheap.

Its Clancy the mercury sniffing dog that goes around to different schools checking to see if any remaining mercury spills have gone undetected.

He's the country's only known mercury sniffing dog. And, he roams the halls of Minnesota schools with his owner, Carol Hubbard. "They trained us like a drug or bomb team. It's just a different substance," says Mercury Specialist Carol Hubbard with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
"I say to him, 'Clancy, find Quick." He was taught to sit and stay." Clancy gets a special reward if he finds any mercury. Hubbard says they find about 40 percent of schools they visit have some sort of mercury spill, usually in the plumbing.

Read the full KTTC-TV posting here.