Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wisconsin Business Groups - "Not So Fast" - File Suit Against DNR Over Mercury Proposal

It didn't take long for the opposition to step forward. Several WI business groups have filed suit in Dane County Circuit Court seeking a halt to the DNR's recently proposed rules on mercury emissions (see last post below). The DNR, in response to Gov. Jim Doyle's request, floated the proposal to cut mercury emissions 90% by 2015. There were options included to limit SO2 and NOx below federal and state requirements to buy time to meet the mercury limits until 2021. The fact that environmental groups were disappointed it didn't move faster without the loopholes and that industry was concerned it could meet the stated goals, to me meant it was probably a pretty good compromise.

Now it will move to the courts. The groups are not questioning the limits or timetables set forth in the proposal, they are asking the DNR to follow the procedures for rule making. An excerpt from The Capital Times follows;

The organizations -- including the Wisconsin Builders Association, Wisconsin Utility Investors and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce -- filed the lawsuit in Dane County Circuit Court Monday.

The lawsuit is not challenging the merit or substance of the proposed rule, the organizations said in a news release. Instead, they are asking the DNR to comply with public notice requirements of the Job Creation Act of 2004.
"Had the DNR issued an accurate scope statement for this rule, the affected parties would have had the opportunity to request an economic impact report during a 90-day window provided by the law," the news release said.

"The lack of an accurate scope statement has prevented Wisconsin businesses, lawmakers and electric ratepayers from availing themselves of their due process rights to request preparation of this critical economic report."

"We are still analyzing the lawsuit. We have referred it to the Department of Justice and cannot comment at this point," said Laurel Steffes, a spokeswoman for the DNR.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Back From Costa Rica, Let’s Catch Up On What’s Going On In Mercury Emissions

I just returned from an eleven-day vacation in Costa Rica. It was fantastic! We visited Torteguero, volcanoes Poas & Arenal, Manuel Antonio National Beach and Manzanillo. What an amazing country. I’ll get some photos up here in the near future.

DOJ’s Heart Not In Appeal
According to Inside EPA’s Clean Air Report the DOJ begrudgingly filed the most recent appeal of the DC Circuit Court’s mercury ruling. In fact they use the term “’violent’ DOJ Opposition” in their April 3, 2008 release by Dawn Reeves. The Inside EPA’s Clean Air Report is a subscription only publication. In this article it states, One informed source says DOJ was “violently opposed” to filing an appeal of the CAMR ruling, as were mid-level staff in EPA’s air and general counsel office. “Clearly, someone higher up leaned on them to file,” the source claims.

The UARG filing only asked the three judge panel to reconsider their ruling while the EPA’s request for en banc hearing was, in one source’s opinion, “because they recognize they have zero chance of convincing the original panel.”

And the source says the agency’s request for review uses “strong language,” such as referring to the earlier ruling as “absurd” and “nonsensical” that the source says is highly unusual for a court filing. The source calls this a “reflection of desperation” particularly because the “next administration, whoever it is, is not going to abide by the view.”

The full DC Court could outright reject the appeal, as many think they will. Most of the parties directly involved in the case are not commenting publicly so we will have to wait and see what happens. A last tidbit from the Inside EPA’s article is;

One legal expert says that in order for the court to accept EPA’s request, a majority of the 10 active judges on the court would need to vote in favor of it. “So, if none of the judges on the original panel changes his/her mind, six of the seven remaining judges would have to vote in favor. Seems unlikely,” the source says.

CAMR Vacuum Leaves States In A Lurch
After the CAMR was vacated by the DC Circuit Court and the resulting swift issuance of the mandate, states around the country had no guidance as to how to assess permit applications for new plants or those requiring new permits.

In another article from the April 3, 2008 edition of Inside EPA’s Clean Air Report EPA’s outgoing General Counsel Roger Martella says “the agency is working toward developing guidance for how states should address mercury limits at power plants undergoing the permitting process, in the absence of a federal mercury rule for reducing emissions. The issue is “very much on our minds at EPA,” he said.
Many state, industry and environmentalist sources have said if the court issued a formal mandate, then the air act’s section 112(g) would apply. That section requires case-by-case reviews of new permits to impose maximum achievable control technology (MACT) requirements to reduce air toxics.

In the article it was also noted that the EPA has not finalized approval of several of the states plans for mercury and Martella said, “it is unclear whether EPA would complete the process of approving pending state mercury plans. “”That’s a good question,” he said.”

Wisconsin Looks To Move Forward
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is pushing forward with its rulemaking regarding mercury emissions from coal fired EGUs. The DNR recently extended the comment period for its proposal until May 5th allowing industry groups and others a better chance to digest the implications and make informed comments. In an article from Madison, WI’s Capital Times;

"While this rulemaking effort has been ongoing within the department for well over a year, most of us have only just recently seen the rule and underlying documentation," they said in a joint letter. The organizations noted that several materials were not available until early March.

They also asked the department to allow sufficient time to consider all comments before the Natural Resources Board makes a decision, which had been set for its meeting on May 28. The board is now expected to consider the matter at its June 25 meeting.
"The time allowing for comments isn't huge but, on the other hand, we have been debating mercury since 2000 and the technology has improved a lot in that time," said Keith Reopelle, program director for Clean Wisconsin.

The organization also argues that the deadline for emissions reductions should occur sooner than 2015, the rule's deadline for most changes.
The proposed DNR rule, supported by Gov. Jim Doyle, would require large power plants (with a capacity of 150 megawatts or more) to either reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent or limit the concentration of mercury emissions to 0.0080 pounds of mercury per gigawatt-hour by Jan. 1, 2015.

Large plants could also choose an option of reducing nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide beyond federal and state regulations by 2015, in exchange for reaching the 90 percent mercury emission cut by 2021.

Smaller power plants would have to reduce mercury emissions to a level defined as best available control technology, also by Jan. 1, 2015.

Oceana and Olin Corp Battle Over Hiwassee River Mercury Contamination
At one of the few remaining Chlor-Alkali plants left in the country (over 100 others have already switched away from mercury in their process), Olin Corp. continues to resist the change. The plant boasts millions of dollars spent combating mercury emissions yet remains a holdout when almost every other plant of its type has switched.

Oceana has fought a very successful battle with chlor-alkali plants around the country and has shown many of them that they actually can save operating dollars for years to come after investing in the switch.

Excerpts from the Cleveland Daily Banner follow;

Oceana is dedicated to protecting and restoring the world’s oceans. It is actively engaged in urging Olin Corp. to switch from mercury cell technology to non-mercury technology.

Olin Plant Manager Tom Tirabasi said the Olin Chlor Alkali Products Charleston Plant is carefully operated to protect the health of the community, employees and environment.

“The fact remains that if we converted to non-mercury technology even though we meet or do better than all government regulations, we would be forced to dismantle most of the plant and rebuild it, interrupting production and impacting the lives of people in this area. Our commitments to health, environmental performance and continuous improvement already protect this community. That is our top priority.”
Oceana Marine Scientist Kimberly Warner has specialized in studying mercury pollution the past eight years in her work for Oceana. She said power plants are the largest sources of the neurotoxin, Olin’s Charleston plant is the single largest source in Tennessee.

While she expressed no doubt Olin is a good corporate citizen, she said Wednesday evening during a public forum in the Bradley County Courthouse it only makes sense the company is the culprit.

Warner’s study of the Hiwassee shows mercury levels in river sediments are highest directly below Olin’s outfalls and remain elevated downstream compared to upstream. Small fish do not travel as far as top-feeding fish such as largemouth bass. Mercury levels in small prey fish are highest directly in front of the plant compared to upstream and farther downstream. Levels of mercury in game-sized largemouth bass are highest at sites nearest the plant where they exceed the EPA methylmercury safe level.

Friday, April 4, 2008

It Is Going To Take More Than Minimata To Save Flipper, OPS May Have The Ticket

This is a bit off my beat, I cover mercury emission regulations, but this story was one I got hooked into earlier with a post "How Minimata May Save Flipper". This follow-up highlights a covert operation by a brave bunch of Conservationists. The Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS), with some heavy funding by Jim Clark, the founder of Netscape, secretly filmed something I am sure every one of them wish they never saw, and no one else would ever have to see. But without exposing this tragedy it may continue and that is just unacceptable.

A graphic story of the annual Taiji, Japan murders of thousands of dolphins is brought to life in text form in an article by Boyd Harnell (and soon in film form produced by OPS and Directed by Louie Psihoyos). Boyd tells the story about how and why these brave filmmakers risked their lives to capture the horror so others around the world could see for themselves what was going on in the name of fishing. The ironic part is the dolphins are so contaminated with mercury that their own government warns against eating the meat. So this annual dolphin kill continues, I assume, mainly for tradition.

One scary fact is uncovered in the process and that is that many dolphin trainers and others you wouldn't expect to be complicit apparently watch and laugh as the killing goes on and they select dolphins they want to keep for themselves to train. How could they, how could they show so little compassion for an animal from which they make their livings?

The story is pretty much the same on both these sights but the pictures on Nemo's Notes show a little more of the story. Go to Cyber Diver News Network (CDNN) or Nemo's Notes for details. Not for the squeamish.