Friday, June 29, 2007

House Votes to Protect Against Increased Toxic Pollution Including Mercury

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 25, 2007

Oklahoma Mercury Emissions Discussion Juxtaposed to Study Findings

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

An excerpt from the June 17th Phoenix article follow.

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

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

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

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

An excerpt from the other Phoenix article follows.

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More Mercury in Coal Than Crude Oil, Well Duhhh!

The news out of the science world today is surprising. Not that there is less mercury in oil than in coal that seemed fairly obvious. What is surprising is that no one really studied this before now. I find that fact almost unbelievable. And so another mystery is resolved.

Excerpts from ScienceDaily follow; (Yeah, I rechecked the date on this, it is current not from the 1980s).

A 4-year study of mercury in crude oil refined in the United States has found that, of the two major sources of U.S. fossil energy mined coal and crude oil crude oil contains much less toxic mercury, on average, than coal.
Coal-fired power plants released about 48 tons of mercury annually, according to U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data, a figure that would drop to 15 tons annually with implementation of new clean air regulations.

However, the amount of mercury present in crude oil, and thus potentially released into the air in automobile exhaust and other sources, remained uncertain due to a lack of accurate mercury concentration data for the wide range of crude oils produced domestically and imported into the U. S., the study noted.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

EPA Incinerator Rule "Whacked" by Federal Court

A court battle over a controversial waste incinerator rule was ruled upon last Friday in favor of the plaintiffs NRDC, Sierra Club, Louisiana Environmental Action Network and Environmental Integrity Project. The groups were represented in court proceedings by EarthJustice and NRDC lawyers.

The EarthJustice article is so full of pertinent and poignant comments it was difficult not to just copy it all over. A few choice excerpts follow but the whole article is must read stuff.

"EPA's illegal rules are being struck down in courts with the frequency of characters getting whacked on The Sopranos," said John Walke, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The agency should get back to enforcing the law against big polluters, not join their ranks."
Many industrial facilities, including chemical plants, refineries, metal smelters, and paper mills, burn the waste they generate in on-site incinerators. Among the wastes they burn are chemicals, industrial sludges, plastics, agricultural waste treated with pesticides, chemically treated wood wastes, and used tires. Emissions from these incinerators include mercury, lead, arsenic, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and other highly toxic pollutants.

EPA had argued that it could set far less protective standards for these incinerators by treating them as though they were "boilers" or "process heaters" that burn only fossil fuels. The court rejected that argument, making clear that facilities that burn waste are incinerators and must meet the Clean Air Act's highly protective incinerator standards.

"EPA has been caught perpetrating a bait-&-switch operation by proposing incinerator rules while exempting nearly every incinerator from the rules," said Marti Sinclair, Sierra Club's National Air Committee chair. "EPA needs to quit trying to con the public and start protecting communities, human communities and natural communities, from the ongoing deluge of toxic emissions released by incinerators."

"Once again, a court had to remind EPA that it cannot rewrite the Clean Air Act to suit this administration's anti-environmental policies," said James Pew, Earthjustice attorney. "Congress enacted very protective emission standards to protect Americans from incinerator pollution. EPA may not deprive us of that protection, no matter how badly it wants to help out the administration's friends in industry."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

TXU Raises the Bar of Utility Responsibility by Voluntarily Planning to Install BACT to Substantially Reduce Mercury Emissions

In what could be termed a surprise announcement TXU Power today said they would install sorbent injection systems on every coal fired unit they own. Activated carbon sorbent is considered the Best Available Control Technology (BACT) for mercury control.

It may not be as much of a surprise as first thought. TXU has been going through acquisition proceedings and has been trying to gain support for more coal fired plants in Texas. It is moves like this that just may get them there too.

A group of investors including among others Texas Pacific Group (TPG) are encouraging the bold move. William Reilly of TPG, and the former Administrator of the USEPA, and a projected Board member for the new management group, speaks for all.

..."After hearing directly from people across Texas, including elected officials and consumer and environmental groups, we reviewed TXU's proposed mercury emissions controls program, and we encouraged TXU to move forward with this progressive program," said William Reilly of TPG. Reilly, a former Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), will join the board of directors of TXU upon closing of the transaction.

The plan has support of local governments too.

"This emissions reduction plan demonstrates a significant commitment by TXU and TEF to protect our air quality and the environment, well in
advance of EPA mandates. Mercury emissions have been of major concern throughout the state and, in fact, the nation. All efforts to reduce mercury emissions, sooner rather than later, should be encouraged and supported," said Waco Mayor Virginia DuPuy.

"Clean air and a reliable power supply are important to all Texans, and we all benefit greatly from this plan. I look forward to continuing to work with TEF and TXU as they implement this commitment," said Fairfield Mayor Roy Hill.

If utilities can plan and invest this way for mercury emissions there may be hope for CO2 control as well. If that hurdle can be overcome then responsible utilities like the New TXU should be given permits to expand for future needs. The full EarthTimes article is here.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Rachel Carson Tribute

I wanted to take note of the 100th anniversary of Rachel Carson's birth. Certainly it can be said she launched the modern day environmental movement with the release of her book Silent Spring. She was an inspiration to me in getting involved with environmental matters when I was a biology student at Northern Illinois University studying under Dr. Sorenson an environmental champion in his own right.

I started to write a tribute to Ms. Carson and while doing my on-line research came across another post by a blogger who obviously felt the same way I did. In true blogger fashion, rather than write the whole thing myself I will direct you to Brian's post on his site that is so well written my feeble attempt would be shamed if held side-by-side. So enjoy his tribute and remember Rachel Carson for she truly is a modern day hero.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Georgia Moving Closer To Tough Mercury Emissions Standards

As was noted back in March by Hg-ATME, Georgia is looking more like its Northern counterparts and strongly considering a State crackdown on mercury emissions. Now the south, what with Tennessee as noted earlier is realizing mercury emissions are a threat to human health and natural resources.

Yes it may cost a little more to the average consumer to implement these standards but most people agree this is one rate increase with equal or greater value received.

Tenn. (R) Senator Pushes (D) Governor To Toughen Up State Mercury Emissions Laws

From the man bites dog story pile. Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexander has written a letter to Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen urging him to tighten the mercury emission regulations in TN to be tougher than Bush administration standards. The governor has not acquiesced yet. This does not mean that he won't, but he probably wants to look like he is leading this push not Alexander.

Senator Alexander has been out front on this issue for months now. He sits on the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee and is quite knowledgable on the subject. But as Hg-ATME noted earlier this is a bit unusual.

Excerpt from The Tennessean, full article here.

Bredesen’s response in a statement made by his press secretary Lydia Lenker office was not specific about any possible tightening of state law, but said the Governor appreciated Alexander’s leadership on the issue.

Also from

Alexander’s letter is a follow-up to a letter he sent to the governor last fall commending his efforts to examine the impact mercury emissions may be having in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.