Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Polar Ice Crystals Aid Mercury Deposition - Then What?

A research team headed by Prof. Joel Blum of the University of Michigan studied how ice crystals formed by rising sea vapors captured almost all of the airborne mercury each polar spring. How the crystals performed their collection and which crystal types were best at it formed the basis of some very interesting research. Aided in his study by others from the Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory and the University of Alaska, Professor Blum hopes to take the study into the next phase where they study the snow melt and its effect on mercury accumulation in the tundra. Look for their full results in the cover article of the March 1, 2008 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, whose lead author is Thomas Douglas of the CRR&EL. A preview excerpt from an article on PhysOrg.com follows;

"Previous measurements had shown that in polar springtime, the normally steady levels of mercury in the atmosphere drop to near zero, and scientists studying this atmospheric phenomenon had analyzed a few snow samples and found very high levels of mercury," said Joel Blum, the John D. MacArthur Professor of Geological Sciences at U-M. "We wanted to understand what's controlling this mercury deposition, where it's occurring and whether mercury concentrations are related to the type and formation of snow and ice crystals."
"Alaska receives air masses originating in Asia, and with China adding a new coal-fired power plant almost every week, it's not surprising that we find significant amounts of mercury there," Douglas said. "The concentrations we measured in some snow are far greater than would be found right next to a waste incinerator or power plant in an industrialized location."
Blum and co-workers discovered that certain types of ice crystals—frost flowers and rime ice—contained the highest concentrations of mercury. Because both types of crystal grow directly by water vapor accretion, the scientists reasoned that breaks in the sea ice, where water vapor rises in great clouds, contribute to Arctic mercury deposition.

"The vapor that rises through these openings in the ice brings with it bromine from the sea water. That gets into the atmosphere, where sunlight plus the bromine cause a catalytic reaction which converts mercury gas into a reactive form. If any ice crystals are present, the mercury sticks to them and comes out of the atmosphere," Blum said.

The greater the surface area of the crystals, the more mercury they grab, which explains why frost flowers and rime ice, both delicate formations with high surface areas, end up with so much mercury. The mercury-tainted crystals aren't, however, confined to the edges of breaks in the ice, the researchers determined. Bromine can travel great distances, resulting in mercury deposition in snow throughout the Arctic coastal region.
"Research like this will help to further the understanding of mercury deposition to a region that is generally considered pristine," he said. "In the next phase of our work, we are expanding our knowledge by tracking the mercury during and following snow melt and studying its accumulation on the tundra."

In addition to Blum and Douglas, the paper's authors are Matthew Sturm of the Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in Fort Wainwright, Alaska; William R. Simpson and Laura Alvarez-Aviles of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Gerald Keeler, director of the U-M Air Quality Laboratory; Donald Perovich of the Cold Regions Research & Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, N.H.; U-M post-doctoral fellow Abir Biswas and U-M graduate student Kelsey Johnson.

The full article which goes into some interesting detail of how hard it is to perform research and capture representative samples in the freezing temperatures can be found here. I look forward to seeing what they uncover in phase two.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Analysis and Speculation "What were they thinking?" - EPAs Contradictory Behavior

We are all scratching our heads. The more information that comes out the more damning the evidence. As we reported yesterday when we covered the AP Story by Joe Hebert, EPA was pressuring States to abide by the Federal CAMR even when they said they were not. I came across a very well written post by John Walke of NRDC on his blog that picks up on more of the nuances and tries to understand the thinking going on in EPA inner circles. An excerpt follows;

In perhaps the most wan and non-responsive response from an EPA spokesperson this year -- which Hebert highlights as a stand-alone paragraph that reads like a punchline to a bad joke -- "An EPA official said the agency's job 'is not to pressure states.'"

Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. EPA Spokesman. We hope that's not the EPA's "job" -- so why was EPA doing it? Stay tuned as EPA predictably tries to deny it was pressuring states, contradicting numerous state officials and squirming uncomfortably when presented with the agency’s own emails.

As this unfolds before our eyes and ears I am only reminded of the old line "I'm from the government and I am here to help."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Why EPA Pressured States Over Mercury Emissions

Environmental Defense recently obtained internal EPA documents showing a pattern of pressure and arm twisting the EPA used to get individual States to play along with the Fed's plan for mercury emissions control. The Federal CAMR was based on a cap-and-trade scheme much like the ones used for SO2 and NOx emissions. An excerpt from an AP article over the weekend follows;

"There was an extraordinary degree of aggressiveness by EPA in pressing states to abandon a more protective mercury program. EPA devoted enormous effort to preventing states from doing more," said Vickie Patton, a lawyer for Environmental Defense. The group obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act filing.

The push to rein in uncooperative states continued until the eve of the Feb. 8 appeals court decision that struck down the EPA's program. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the agency did not adequately address the health impact of its plan.

The administration was poised to take even tougher measures against maverick states. A day before the ruling, the White House Office of Management and Budget approved a draft regulation to impose a "federal implementation plan" for mercury reduction in states whose mercury control measures did not meet EPA approval.

It would have required power plants to comply with the national cap-and-trade provisions, even it that meant ignoring state restrictions.

Both the emissions trading approach and any further requirement on states have been put on hold after the court ruling, EPA spokesman Jonathan Shradar. He denied that the agency was pressuring states.

"Our goal is to have a federal rule. ... Our job is not to pressure states," he said.

It is my opinion that the reason the EPA became so determined to push States into the trading program was simply because if enough States opted out of the trading program there would not be enough credits to run a successful cap-and-trade program. The market would not be big enough to sustain the plan. So, as many States began to opt out and create plans stricter than CAMR, EPA got concerned and tried to "steer" States into the program.

Of course it all became moot with the Feb 8 ruling.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

CAMR Gone - Activated Carbon Sales Projections Increase

In the coming days we will all be watching to see what effect the Appeals Court ruling against the EPA's CAMR will have on industry. Will power plants recently permitted to go forward have to resubmit their applications? Will Mercury Monitoring sales be slowed or halted? What other impacts will there be?

One industry that thinks ultimately the impact will be positive is the activated carbon market. Both Calgon Carbon and ADA have expressed upbeat reactions to the ruling. In an article from the West Virginia State Journal, Gail Gerono, a Calgon spokesperson says, "We think that long-term it is going to be quite positive for us." And investors must believe it will be so as Calgon Carbon stock went up immediately after the ruling and has continued to climb since. Excerpt follows;

"We were estimating before this ruling based on our conversations with various utilities that the market for 2010 would be about 300 million pounds (of powdered activated carbon and), by 2018, the market would be about 750 million pounds," Gerono said.

The company expects the court's decision to increase those numbers at the 2018 end of that projection, she said.

Another activated carbon company ADA-ES from Littleton, CO also sees the recent ruling not affecting their growth plans at all. An excerpt from Environmental Protection follows;

According to (ADA-ES) President and Chief Executive Officer Michael Durham, Ph.D., "We have been pursuing an aggressive strategy to ensure that we will be able to supply the activated carbon needs of our coal-fired power customers. Despite regulatory uncertainty, we have taken steps and invested capital prior to the adoption of final, binding federal regulations, in order to be in position to respond to the market that we believe will result from more stringent limits on mercury emissions."

ADA has plans to build the largest activated carbon production line yet, and does not appear to be altering those plans.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Dems Move Fast To Replace Vacated CAMR With New Federal Legislation

Senator Tom Carper (D) Delaware plans to introduce a bill that would force the EPA to act quickly to adopt a Rule that would reduce mercury emissions from all EGUs by a factor of 90% by 2010. The bill called the "Electric Utility Steam Generating Unit Emission Control Act", or EUSGUECA for short, sort of, claims it could save the US $5.2 billion per year in health care costs related to the toxin. The bill also claims to accomplish this using existing technology at a cost of only $3.00/kilowatt hour. An excerpt from Environment & Energy Daily (Subscription req'd) follows;

Carper's legislation would require U.S. EPA to write a rule aimed at a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 2010, using available technology like activated carbon injection and fabric filters. By contrast, EPA said the rule struck down by the court would have achieved a 70 percent reduction in mercury emissions by 2018.

Ramped up reductions with a ramped up time-line is exactly why environmentalists applauded the DC Appellate Court's decision the other day. While EPA claimed the court ruling left the country with no mercury rule, the swift call to action to replace the CAMR with legislation consistent with the Clean Air Act should quell any concerns.

Friday, February 8, 2008

CAMR Vacated by DC Appeals Court, What's Next?

It seemed inevitable, the shaky ground upon which EPA's Clean Air Mercury Rule stood finally crumbled. In the long awaited decision the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia sided with the petitioners and vacated the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR). The following excerpt, directly from the ruling, with citations omitted follows;

Accordingly, in view of the plain text and structure of section 112, we grant the petitions and vacate the Delisting Rule. […] This requires vacation of CAMR’s regulations for both new and existing EGUs. EPA promulgated the CAMR regulations for existing EGUs under section 111(d), but under EPA’s own interpretation of the section, it cannot be used to regulate sources listed under section 112; EPA thus concedes that if EGUs remain listed under section 112, as we hold, then the CAMR regulations for existing sources must fall. […] EPA promulgated the CAMR regulations for new sources under section 111(b) on the basis that there would be no section 112 regulation of EGU emissions and that the new source performance standards would be accompanied by a national emissions cap and a voluntary cap- and-trade program […] Given that these vital assumptions were incorrect, the court must vacate CAMR’s new source performance standards and remand them to EPA for reconsideration, for “[s]everance and affirmance of a portion of an administrative regulation is improper if there is ‘substantial doubt’ that the agency would have adopted the severed portion on its own […] In view of our disposition, the court does not reach other contentions of petitioners or intervenors.

So that leaves us with the question, What's next? One option is the EPA could ask the full Appeals Court to rule, this decision was a three judge panel, but that seems unlikely because all three judges signed on. Another option is to appeal to the Supreme Court, the likelihood of that seems dim for the same reason. It was resolved fairly quickly, which may indicate there was little dissent, but we will have to wait and see. Several States have their own laws which were stricter than the CAMR and did not allow trading of mercury credits and those should not be affected. Any State law that did allow for any credit trading is in trouble. And it may be that all State rules that were compelled by the now vacated CAMR need to be revisited.

What happens now? If the ruling stands and is not appealed the ultimate course of action for EPA will probably be a Most Achievable Control Technology (MACT) rule for mercury, and now since mercury capture technology has progressed quite a bit, the resulting MACT may be stricter than the one that would have been put in place back in 2005. This will be very interesting to watch and follow now. Earth News has more here. And YubaNet has more here.

Friday, February 1, 2008

How Minamata May Save Flipper

For centuries fishermen from a small fishing village in Japan have annually corralled thousands of dolphins in a tiny cove and then slaughtered them for meat and fertilizer. For decades environmental and animal activists have protested the slaughters and have attempted to bring public awareness to this unnecessary ritual in an effort to have it stopped, thus far unsuccessfully. But now a threat to the Japanese even stronger than global public opinion may put an end to the senseless killing.

Back in the 1950s and 60s there was a terrible environmental disaster in Japan. A disaster so horrendous that thousands of Japanese people were killed or crippled and many families are still fighting over restitution. The disaster was the mercury poisoning of Minamata Bay caused by dumping vast amounts of industrial waste into the waters near that southern fishing village.

Well recent tests on the meat from the dolphin slaughters has shown very high levels of mercury and may ultimately put an end to the ritual. No one in Japan wants another Minamata, apparently they can live with the senseless killing of dolphins as long as it doesn't jeopardize their food supply with a known toxin. So, their fear of poisoning themselves may end the killing of the dolphins. If only they were smart enough to do something about poisoning the dolphins so our marvelous mammalian brothers and sisters of the sea could live toxin-free too. Oh, and try to find a better source of food and fertilizer.

Nevada Rebuffed, Oklahoma Dawdles & Michigan Boldly Moves Forward

As the country awaits the decision of the Federal Appeals Court in D.C. on the legality and thus the future of the CAMR, different States are taking different tacks. Nevada sent its plan to comply with CAMR to the EPA back in November of 2006. The plan was recently rejected and sent back for rework. The EPAs decision to reject the plan is open for comment now and has been extended until March 13, 2008.

Oklahoma officials used the pending federal court case as an excuse to delay action altogether. From a recent NewsOK article;

Members of the Department of Environmental Quality's Air Quality Advisory Council voted to delay adopting proposed rules seeking to implement limits within the Sooner State until at least April.

They opted to wait because of an ongoing lawsuit seeking to void the federal rules.
The advisory council's decision Thursday didn't appear to surprise environmentalists who attended the meeting.

Still, they told council members Thursday stricter standards need to be adopted now.

"When it comes to that decision on the federal lawsuit, whichever way it goes, what is the risk of going ahead with something stricter?” asked Montelle Clark, a member of the Oklahoma Sustainability Network's board of directors.

"You are still allowed to do that” regardless of the lawsuit's outcome, Clark said. "If you went ahead and did it now, you would be ahead of the game.”

Meanwhile, Michigan has all but declared war on mercury in all its forms and releases. A bold 67 point plan, if completely enacted and seen through, would position Michigan as a model for the rest of the country. Some of it requires future legislation but a lot of it is a "call for partnerships with local governments and private groups."

An excerpt from All American Patriots follows;

January 30, 2008 -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has released a comprehensive strategy to eliminate the use and release of mercury to Michigan's environment. The DEQ's Mercury Strategy Staff Report contains specific recommendations to ensure the protection of Michigan's wildlife and citizens from this persistent toxic pollutant by proposing a comprehensive approach to controlling mercury, including environmental monitoring, inventory development, collaborations and partnerships, information and outreach, and regulatory controls.

Different strokes...