Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Wisconsin Judge Clears Way for DNR's Mercury Emissions Plans

A Dane County Circuit Judge, Stephen Ebert, agreed with the DNR and rejected a lawsuit by business interests that tried to stop them. Although some environmentalists like Mark Redstein of Clean Wisconsin cheer the ruling, others are less so enthusiastic thinking it doesn't go far enough fast enough. The business groups may appeal the ruling too, so, in true compromise fashion the fact that most parties are upset by some portion of the plan, it is probably a pretty good plan.

Some excerpts from local media outlets and Forbes follow;

From WRN.com;
The Dane County Circuit Court Monday dismissed a lawsuit meant to block the DNR's rules on limiting mercury emissions from coal burning power plants. The challenge was brought by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Wisconsin Utility Investors and the Wisconsin Paper Council. The court rejected the groups' claim that the DNR did not perform the proper economic "scope" of the proposal.

Mark Redstein, Executive Director of Clean Wisconsin, applauds the ruling.

"We believe its time state takes on the important work of reducing mercury pollution."

From WKOWTV.com;
Mercury pollutes our air and water, threatening our health and a Wisconsin fishing tradition," Redsten said. "When technologies exist to reduce mercury pollution, we must hold utilities accountable and ensure they do everything within their power to protect our environment and our health."

The DNR proposal would require coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury emissions by following one of two paths. Operators of such plants could choose between reducing mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2015 or could extend that deadline until 2021 by agreeing to more stringent limits on nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, which increase the methylization of mercury, making it more toxic to people, fish and wildlife.

And from Forbes.com;
Businesses that filed the lawsuit include Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the Wisconsin Utility Investors and the Wisconsin Paper Council.

They are considering appealing Monday's decision or fighting the rules once they are approved, attorney Dennis Birke said.

He argued Monday that the rule-making process should stop until the so-called "scope statement" is done.

The judge said businesses could have asked for the scope statement in 2005 when a rule change dealing with mercury emissions was considered.

"Choosing not to is akin to betting on the wrong horse," Ebert said.

Assistant Attorney General Diane Milligan argued the lawsuit was premature.

"The rule making process is far from over," she said, noting that the rule up for a vote Wednesday also must clear a legislative hearing process.

Opponents of the rules have raised concerns about their cost, the ability to comply within the time required and the fact that they would be more restrictive than federal law.

The DNR estimates that the new restrictions could cost $38 million to $91 million annually. That, in turn, could trigger consumer rate increases of up to 2 percent, according to a state Public Service Commission estimate.

Some environmental groups, doctors and health care workers have argued that the rules are too lenient and give utilities too much time to reduce emissions that they say threaten people's health now.

The DNR stands by the proposal.
The agency adopted rules four years ago that required Alliant Energy, Dairyland Power Cooperative, We Energies and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. to cut mercury emissions by 75 percent by 2015. Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle ordered the agency to step that up to 90 percent by 2018 during his re-election campaign in 2006.

Other utilities that would be covered under the new rules include Wisconsin Power & Light, Madison Gas & Electric Co., Manitowoc Public Utilities, Northern States Power Wisconsin and Mid-American Energy Co.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

With CAMR Dead What Is There to Post On?

Well, the world of mercury emission regulations has been put on hold for a while. Everyone remotely involved in this subject, myself included, doubts very much if the EPA will appeal their loss in the Circuit Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court. It just does not make any sense, and for that reason alone it still may happen.

Short that possibility the Federal Clean Air Mercury Rule is dead. This leaves everyone with a stake in the issue a lack of direction, or maybe more correctly, a lack of urgency. The mere fact that CAMR was ruled illegal does set some direction. It is clear what the law (The Clean Air Act) does require and a MACT standard for mercury for coal fired EGUs will be forthcoming. But when that will happen, and what it will entail as far as reduction targets, monitoring, compliance timetables and such is left only for speculation.

I will try to stay on top of the debate and keep all of you posted as to the rumblings and grumblings when and if they happen. Meanwhile some immediate fallout from the vacatur is already upon us.

North Carolina Demands MACT for Cliffside
The Division of Air Quality in N.C. has reconsidered the permit they approved for Duke Energy and asked Duke to resubmit with maximum achievable control technologies for hazardous air pollutants including mercury. An excerpt from Asheville, NC's Citizen Times follows;

The division granted Duke an air quality permit in January for a new 800-megawatt boiler at its Cliffside Steam Station near Forest City.

After the division issued the permit, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia overturned the federal Clean Air Mercury Rule, concluding that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acted inappropriately in exempting coal-fired power plants from portions of the Clean Air Act that deal with the control of hazardous air pollutants.

The court's decision means that all new coal-fired plants must demonstrate that they use the most stringent controls for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants.

EPA Moves to Increase Allowed Fugitive Mercury Emissions from Chlor-Alkali Plants
I am not an expert on fugitive emissions and I don't know that increasing them from the few chlor-alkali plants still in existence is a big deal or not. It is my underastanding that the real issue with the outdated chlor-alkali process, that uses lots of mercury unnecessarily, is the effluent streams that immediately pollute the waters in the rivers nearby. Yes, the fugitive emissions are airborne and will add to the problem but they appear to be less significant, I could be wrong. But what I am not wrong about is that all chlor-alkali plants using the old mercury cell technology should be converted to be mercury free. Then there are no mercury laden effluents and no fugitive emissions to worry about.

More than a hundred of these plants have already converted or are in the process of doing so. Why do these four or five remaining plants hold on to the old technology so tightly. Yes, it is an expense to convert, and there may be a lengthy return on investment for the conversion, but undoubtedly ownership and management should be concerned with their neighbors and employees enough to go forward and change. Not doing so is a slap in the face of their surrounding communities and an admission that dollars are more important than lives.

An excerpt from a post on the Georgia Public Broadcasting blog, Georgia News GPB, follows;

A federal agency is proposing a new emissions standard for companies that make chlorine using mercury.

The new standard would release more mercury into the air.

Olin Corporation in Augusta uses mercury in its chlorine production. It's one of five in the nation that still do.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to raise the percentage of mercury, called fugitive emissions, it allows companies to release into the air from the cell room where the chlorine is produced.
"It's another demonstration of the EPA allowing Olin to continue to pollute the Augusta area," says Tonya Bonitatibus, a field representative for the environmental watchdog group Oceana. She says the group is still studying the proposed rule but opposes the higher emissions.

David Blair, the plant manager at Olin in Augusta, declined to comment on the proposed rule, but did respond to the emissions issue in a written statement. "We've invested millions of dollars in technology and workplace practices during recent years," he said. "We already have in place a system that continuously monitors emissions at the cell room."

Blair said the company had reduced its emissions by more than 85 percent by 2007.

A link to the Proposed Rule is here.