Reducing Mercury Emissions From Coal-Fired Power Plants: Yes We Can (And Could Have, Years Ago)

by Catherine O'Neill | October 26, 2009

Three recent developments in the saga of efforts to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired utilities are significant. Early last week, Michigan became the twenty-third state to require coal-fired utilities within its jurisdiction to reduce their mercury emissions. Michigan’s regulation requires these sources to cut mercury emissions by 90% by 2015. Then, on Thursday, the EPA reached a settlement with environmental groups who had sued the agency for failing to act to regulate mercury emissions. In the agreement (see NYTimes also), the EPA pledged to set standards for mercury and a number of other toxics by late 2011.

The EPA and Michigan announcements come on the heels of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released early this month indicating that coal-fired power plants across the nation have achieved substantial reductions in emissions of this toxic air pollutant. The GAO report, Clean Air Act: Mercury Control Technologies at Coal-Fired Power Plants Have Achieved Substantial Emissions Reductions, found that these sources were able to reduce mercury emissions by as much as 99% using currently available technologies. It found, moreover, that these reductions “have been achieved at a relatively low cost.”

But wait – didn’t we hear from the Bush Administration and the utilities that control technologies capable of reducing mercury emissions on this order were still years away from commercial viability? And that this reality warranted a federal regulation that sought only modest emissions reductions (70%) and delayed ...

USGS's Study on Mercury in Fish: Trouble in the Water

by Catherine O'Neill | August 20, 2009
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) issued a report today finding widespread mercury contamination in U.S. streams. The USGS found methylmercury in every fish that it sampled – an extraordinary indictment of the health of our nation’s waters. The USGS reported that the fish at 27% of the sites contain mercury at levels exceeding the criterion for the protection of humans who consume an average amount of fish, as established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But EPA’s criterion grossly ...

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