Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New England Lobs A Mercury Bomb at the Midwest

In move that should really surprise no one, the Governors of six New England States are calling on the USEPA to come down harder to reduce mercury emissions from the Midwest that are depositing in and around New England. While I agree the Feds could do more nationally to address this issue, lobbing "our poop doesn't smell" bombs toward the Midwest is humorous. If the Feds need to do anything it is to get tough nationally, not just in the Midwest.

Its as though the Midwest's mercury is somehow more dangerous than the mercury from out West or even their own belching stacks in New England, of which there are several. Let's get tough as a nation on mercury emissions and stop pointing fingers at one region or another. It is a problem for all of us to deal with, and I am certain we will.

An excerpt from today's follows;

Gov. Patrick is calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to do more to control the mercury pollution that's blowing into New England from the Midwest.

He's joining the governors of the other five New England states and New York in urging EPA action.

Patrick says pollution from the Midwest's coal-fired power plants is contributing to high mercury levels found in freshwater fish in the Northeast.

I know there are a lot of coal burning plants in the Midwest and New England is downwind, but in the big picture we are all downwind of someone. With mercury emissions this is a global issue that needs to be addressed for everyone's sake. Oh, and by the way Go Bosox!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Forest Fires & Other Similar Blazes Roughly Equal Mercury Emissions From Power Plants

A newly released study of forest fires and other blazes reveals that large amounts of mercury are emitted from these fires roughly equal to the amount emitted from coal burning power plants. Scientists, Hans Friedli and Christine Wiedinmyer, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) have plotted state-by-state estimates of mercury emissions from such fires. It is preliminary research that the authors caution may be subject to 50% error but it is extremely useful information in its current state.

The mercury comes from natural and industrial sources that lands in soil and upon plant matter and gets re-released into the atmosphere when these fire occur. So it is not correct to just say "see, equal amounts are released naturally," and use that as an argument against strict mercury standards because a lot of the mercury is being deposited from industrial sources, so that if they were reduced would reduce these re-emissions too.

An excerpt from this interesting UCAR article follows with a link to the full article here.

The study, "Mercury Emission Estimates from Fires: An Initial Inventory for the United States," is being published online today by the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's principal sponsor, as well as by the Electric Power Research Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency.

The paper estimates that fires in the continental United States and Alaska release about 44 metric tons of mercury into the atmosphere every year. It is the first study to estimate mercury emissions for each state, based on a new computer model developed at NCAR. The authors caution that their estimates for the nation and for each state are preliminary and are subject to a 50 percent or greater margin of error. A metric ton is about 10% larger than a U.S. ton.

Mercury does not originate in fires. Instead, it comes from industrial and natural sources, often settling into soil and plant matter. Intense fires then release the mercury back into the atmosphere, where it poses a new danger because it can reach sensitive waterways and other areas.

"What we are seeing is that mercury from other sources is being deposited into the vegetation and soil and then being released back into the atmosphere, where it can travel far downwind and contaminate watersheds and fragile ecosystems," says NCAR scientist Christine Wiedinmyer, one of the study's co-authors. "It's important for federal and state officials to have this type of information and to know where mercury is coming from so they can better protect public health and the environment."

Monday, October 15, 2007

IDEM Gets Berated By EPA, First It Was BP and Now US Steel, What Are They Thinking?

It was only a couple months ago that IDEM, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, was giving BP a pass on emissions of heavy metals, including mercury, into Lake Michigan. An immediate outcry from the public sector all around the Great Lakes drew attention to IDEM's plans and they were quickly squashed as BP had to give-in to protect what little integrity they had left after touting themselves as the "green" energy choice and then looking like big time polluters instead. That was then this is now.

Now it is IDEM and US Steel playing lets get lax with emission limits of sludge and heavy metals into our lakes. It is almost unbelievable; who comes up with these ideas? Do they think we are all stupid and won't care?

The outcry on this one is larger and rightly so. The Chicago Tribune ran an article Friday highlighting (or should it be lowlighting) some of the shennanigans IDEM has been playing with US Steel. It not only showed what their plans were for the future, it brought into focus what they haven't been doing for several years. Its as though they want to be exposed as incompetent; mission accomplished!

A few excerpts from the Chicago Tribune story on the subject.

Federal regulators are sending their Indiana counterparts back to the drawing board to ensure that the Gary Works, one of the largest polluters in the Great Lakes basin, cuts the amount of toxic chemicals and heavy metals flowing into a Lake Michigan tributary.

Responding to a Tribune story about a new water permit for the massive steel mill, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Friday it has blocked the proposal, which would scrap, relax or omit limits on pollution the U.S. Steel Corp. mill dumps into the Grand Calumet River before it empties into the lake.
The letter, dated Oct. 1 but not made public until now, chided the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for giving U.S. Steel five years to limit several pollutants, including mercury, lead, cyanide, ammonia and a cancer-causing chemical called benzo(a)pyrene.

Federal regulators also criticized Indiana for failing to set more stringent pollution standards that would help clean up the Grand Calumet, one of the most contaminated waterways in the Great Lakes region.

"They have to do more to protect water quality," said Peter Swenson, chief of the water permits section in the EPA's Chicago office.
Federal law requires states to renew water permits every five years to meet the Clean Water Act goal of eliminating pollution. But Indiana hasn't reissued a permit for the Gary Works since 1994.
The latest fight about a Lake Michigan polluter comes three months after Indiana regulators gave a BP refinery in nearby Whiting permission to significantly increase pollution discharged into the lake, the source of drinking water for Chicago and scores of other communities.

Faced with a storm of public protest and threats of legal action, BP later backed down and promised to meet the more stringent pollution limits in its old permit.
"People in the Great Lakes region no longer are going to tolerate these attempts to look the other way or wait another five years for things to get better," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in an interview. "It would be helpful if Indiana officials would get with the program and realize Lake Michigan shouldn't be a dumping ground."

If it wasn't so sad it would be funny. What were they thinking?

Idaho Governor Leans Away From Mercury Emissions

Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter continues the push of former Governor Jim Risch to keep Idaho out of the mercury "cap-and-trade" program, thus eliminating any chance of a coal fired power plant being built in the State. Currently Idaho has no such plants and thus has a Federally allocated mercury emission allowance of zero. In order for any new plants to be constructed they would have to offset their emissions by purchasing credits. But if they opt out of the program then no credits can be purchased and no plants can be built.

An excerpt from the Magic Valley Times News follows;

Idaho should not join a proposed federal mercury cap-and-trade program, at least for now, Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter told the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Board in a letter dated earlier this month.

The Idaho Legislature and former Gov. Jim Risch took steps last year to keep the Gem State out of the federal program and coal-fired power plants - major emitters of mercury - out of Idaho. But the board has re-examined the issue in recent months, prompting some to speculate the DEQ is interested in joining the program and opening the door for coal-based energy production.

Otter's letter could slam that door.

"I believe it was the right decision at that time," Otter said of the Legislature's actions against mercury, "and I believe it is still the appropriate course of action for the near future."

The federal cap-and-trade program limits the amount of mercury each state can emit, but allows states below the cap to trade their emissions allowances to other states.

The program, which the Bush administration expects will lower nationwide emissions from 48 tons to 15 tons a year, is on hold pending a lawsuit.

Otter wants the board to postpone considering the program at least until the lawsuit is resolved. Meanwhile, he encouraged the DEQ to study mercury in Idaho, a state with no coal-fired power plants or other major mercury emitters but high concentrations of mercury in some areas.

The rest of the article can be read here.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

As Expected, Indiana Chooses Federal Plan

There were no surprises yesterday when the Indiana Pollution Control Board opted to stick with Federal CAMR standards rather than adopt their own tougher mercury laws. The vote was overwhelmingly in favor, 11-1, but there was some debate.

An excerpt from the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette follows;

The Indiana Air Pollution Control Board on Wednesday voted 11-1 to move forward with the federal minimum in mercury emissions reductions rather than a more stringent regulation sought by environmental advocates.

The seemingly strong vote, however, was marred by several members of the board expressing disappointment that after years of study and months of negotiating no compromise could be reached.

“I feel like we have spun our wheels unnecessarily to get nowhere,” board Chairman James Miner said.
Gail Charnley, who works for Health Risk Strategies in Washington, told the panel that only 5 percent to 10 percent of the mercury found in Indiana’s fish is attributable to Indiana power plants.

Most of it, she says, comes from other states as well as China and India.

But concerned citizen Lisa Smith said that China and India are probably blaming Indiana.

“Everybody blames somebody else, and all we get is the bare minimum,” she said.

Board member Thomas Anderson said the board ended up focusing on the wrong issues – such as money and technology – and not enough on public health.

You can read the full article here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Indiana Votes Today On New Mercury Emission Standards

Today the Indiana Pollution Control Board was scheduled to vote on a final rule governing mercury emissions from coal burning power plants within the State. It will be no big surprise that they will follow the Federal CAMR guidelines. IDEM, the Indiana Dept of Environmental Management, has made their recommendations to do just that. While there are a couple other proposals for stricter standards it would be a shock if the Board went in another direction.

An excerpt from Inside Indiana Business follows;


-- On Wednesday, October 3, the Indiana Air Pollution Control Board will take final action on a rule to control emissions of mercury from Indiana’s coal-fired power plants.

-- IDEM is asking the board to adopt the rule issued by the US EPA which requires a 66 percent reduction in mercury emissions by 2018.

-- The Hoosier Environmental Council advocates a 90% reduction in uncontrolled mercury emissions by 2010.

-- Improving Kids’ Environment proposes a middle ground on emission reduction targets and the timetable. It would result in thousands fewer pounds of mercury being released.

The whole story can be found here.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Dr. Charles T. Driscoll, Jr. Inducted Into The National Academy of Engineering

One of the heros of Hg-ATME, Dr. Driscoll is most deserving of this honor. He was intimately involved in the ground-breaking study that verified the existence of mercury "hotspots" in the environment, and specifically in the northeast United States.

And his interview on NPR can possibly still be accessed here.

Dr. Driscoll a professor at Syracuse University, is from Skaneateles (pronounced "skenny-AT-aless"), NY in the fingerlakes region. More can be read about Dr. Driscoll here, and more with a picture here.

Congratulations Dr. Driscoll, your contributions to the field will always be remembered.

Bayou State Moves To Say "Bye To Mercury Emissions"

Louisiana is taking further steps to radically reduce mercury emissions in the Bayou State. Plans that were put off because of Katrina are now back on line and mercury emissions are on the run. While it appears that Louisiana will ride the Federal CAMR relating to coal burning power plants, the Chlor -alkali industry is following the lead of Oceana and going mercury free in the next couple years. These changes represent huge reductions in the amount of mercury released into the air and water of the area.

An excerpt from 2TheAdvocate follows;

Interrupted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the process was taken up again and helped along when the Legislature passed the Louisiana Mercury Risk Reduction Act of 2006.

That work culminated in the DEQ release of the “Mercury Risk Reduction Plan” Thursday, available on DEQ’s Web site:
Some of the biggest reductions are coming in 2008 and 2009 as two chlor-alkali plants in the state switch to a process that uses no mercury.

Pioneer Cos. Inc. in St. Gabriel plans to stop using mercury by the end of 2008, and PPG Industries plant in Lake Charles has already made the transition, Piehler said.

“Those are the few biggest ones,” Piehler said about the future reductions.

The next big releasers of mercury to the air in Louisiana are coal-fired power plants, but relatively recent federal mercury rules will help reduce mercury emissions from those in the coming years, he said. Louisiana has four coal-fired power plants.

More from;

Barry Kohl, a member of the working group that helped DEQ draft the report who's also with the Louisiana Audubon Council, called it a "good first step," and one that puts Louisiana ahead of other states. He said few states have plans both to identify mercury pollution sources and to try to mitigate their effects.