Thursday, July 31, 2008

Obama Leads Bipartisan Legislation For Mercury Export Ban, S. 906

Last November Hg-ATME had a post about House Bill 1534, a bill proposed by Rep. Tom Allen D-Maine that would ban all exports of toxic mercury from the United States. The bill was nearly unanimously received and passed on a voice vote (no roll call required). At that same time Sens. Barak Obama, D-IL and and Lisa Murkowski R-AK were floating a similar bill through the Senate. At the time, the Whitehouse said it would not support the bipartisan legislation. Now almost a year later we have a marked-up version (S. 906, The Mercury Market Minimization Act) of the two bills that everyone has agreed on.

An excerpt from The Earth Times follows;

"Trading mercury is not like trading potato chips," said Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project. "While we spend millions of dollars in the U.S. collecting mercury, ironically it is then sold overseas and used in highly dispersive and dangerous ways, such as in small scale gold mining. Released from these practices, it circulates in the global environment and ends up in the fish that Americans eat."

The free trade of mercury and mercury compounds on the world market, at relatively low prices and in ready supply, encourages the continued use of mercury outside of the U.S.

"We applaud Senator Barak Obama's leadership on this bipartisan legislation," said Bender. "We've got to stop this circle of poison, where for example over 1000 tons of mercury are used annually by more than 10 million small scale gold miners in 50 developing countries, exposing themselves, their families and the local and global environment to this deadly neurotoxin."
While similar versions of the bill were introduced in the House (H.R. 1534) by Tom Allen (D-ME), and Senate (S.906) by Senators Obama (D-IL) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the groups are urging passage of the substitute House-passed version, since it was the subject of subsequent negotiation and compromise, and more accurately reflects the current state of development on this issue.

Lets hope that the President has enough sense at this time to support it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

10 Years, What's the Rush

Cement kilns across the country are spewing mercury emissions at twice the rate EPA estimated, as recently as 2006. Ten years ago Congress compelled EPA to regulate and reduce these cement kiln emissions, and EPA has pretty much ignored the request. In a recently released study conducted by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project it is revealed that cement kilns are emitting more than twice the mercury EPA estimated.

An excerpt from a MarketWatch article below;

EPA Ignored Problem For 10+ Years Even Though Some Kilns Emit More Mercury Than Power Plants; Report Focuses on Cement Kilns in AL, CA, IA, IL, MD, MI, MT, NY, OR, SC, TX and WA.

For more than a decade after Congress told it to curb dangerous mercury pollution from cement kilns across the nation, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refused to take action. Now, a new study from Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) documents the consequences of the EPA's failure: Cement kilns emit mercury pollution -- a threat to the health of pregnant women and children -- at more than twice the level estimated as recently as 2006 by the EPA, which only started to collect data on the problem in 2007.
Entitled "Cementing a Toxic Legacy? How EPA Has Failed to Control Mercury Pollution From Cement Kilns," the Earthjustice/EIP report outlines specific recommendations for EPA and state agency action based on the following key conclusions:

-- Mercury emissions from cement kilns are almost twice as high as the agency has previously acknowledged, and in many states kilns are among the worst mercury polluters. EPA now estimates that cement kilns emit nearly 23,000 pounds of mercury each year, far more than the Agency's 2006 estimate of 11,995 pounds.

-- A relatively small number of cement plants that use extremely dirty raw materials and fuels are among the worst mercury polluters in their states and, in some cases, in the country. For example, some cement kilns release as much or more mercury as coal fired power plants.

-- Since 1974, cement production has increased 15 percent, and further increases are projected for the future. Rising levels of cement production in the U.S. mean that the cement industry's mercury pollution will grow even worse if left unregulated.

Earthjustice staff attorney James Pew said: "EPA's new data confirm that cement plants are among the worst mercury polluters in this country. EPA has refused to acknowledge this problem for more than a decade, and the mercury contamination in our food and waters has grown worse every year as a result. It is high time for EPA to do its job and make this industry clean up its toxic emissions."

The 23,000 pounds, or 11.5 tons, is roughly one quarter of the estimated mercury emissions from all coal fired EGUs in the country (48 Tons). What I find amusing is, many of the cement plants use EGU flyash in their product, thus emitting some of the mercury (trapped in the flyash) that was captured by the air pollution control devices at the power plant. So we play an industrial game of catch and release.

Friday, July 11, 2008

First CAMR, Now CAIR - The EPA Leaves Us Unprotected Again

Just as the Clean Air Mercury Rule or CAMR was vacated by the DC Circuit Court of Appeals back in February, the Clean Air Interstate Rule has bitten the dust. Everyone knew CAMR was flawed establishing a cap-and-trade system to handle a toxin, and excusing EGUs from HAPs legislation, but most people, environmentalists included felt the CAIR had merit and was a program on the right track. Problem is the EPA didn't follow the correct procedure for rule-making of this kind.

In a statement by Eric Schaeffer of the Environmental Integrity Project carried by PRNewswire-USNewswire and printed on;

"Today, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which would have required significant reductions of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants in eastern states. The CAIR rule would have established an emissions trading program, which the court found to be illegal because it failed to require each state to analyze its own contribution to poor air quality: 'The trading program is unlawful, because it does not connect state emission reductions to any measure of their own significant contributions.'

"The court's decision will leave millions of Americans exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution from dirty power plants while the Agency goes back to the drawing board to redraft emission standards. For seven years, the Bush Administration has tried to weaken or eliminate Clean Air Act emission standards for power plants and other industries, while promising that its CAIR rule would make up the difference. That promise has proved to be hollow. The DC Circuit's decision today is only the latest in a series of rulings that have roundly rejected the Bush Administration's creative interpretations of the Clean Air Act.

"As of today, EPA is still toiling away to weaken air quality standards for national parks, and to make it easier for the oldest and dirtiest power plants to increase emissions without pollution controls. Elimination of the CAIR rule makes it even more important for Congress to step in and stop these rollbacks. Since this Administration has proved incapable of reading or following the law, Congress and the next President will have to write the standards that we need to protect the public health from air pollution."

The CAIR had the potential to be very, very beneficial to the public welfare, especially in the eastern half of the country. While EPA got its hands slapped in the CAMR case for not doing enough, this rebuke, in the eyes of the judges, says EPA went too far, or interpreted its authority to write rules beyond the scope of their actual power. It is too bad in this case because the rule was not that bad. But EPA has stringent criteria they must follow to create rules and cutting corners is not going to fly. A brief piece from and the AP says it well;

Court strikes down clean-air rule that would actually clean air

One of the rare Bush administration clean-air policies favored by enviros has been struck down by a federal appeals court. The Clean Air Interstate Rule would have required 28 Eastern states to reduce soot-causing, smog-forming emissions that easily spread on the wind. The U.S. EPA estimated that the rule would prevent 17,000 premature deaths per year, tens of thousands of nonfatal heart attacks, millions of lost work and school days, and up to $100 billion in health-care costs. But ruling in favor of electric-power producers, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the EPA overstepped its authority in instituting the rule and that the regulation contained "more than several fatal flaws." Says Frank O'Donnell of advocacy group Clean Air Watch, "This is without a doubt the worst news of the year when it comes to air pollution."

Sometimes you just can't win for losing.