From: Marc Levy, Associated Press
Published November 17, 2006 12:00 AM

Pennsylvania Passes Plan to Cut Mercury

HARRISBURG, Penn. — A state regulatory board Thursday approved Gov. Ed Rendell's proposal to make deeper cuts in mercury emissions from Pennsylvania's coal-fired power plants, despite opposition from power plants and mining companies.


The vote by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission came just a day before a deadline for the state to submit a mercury-regulation plan to the federal government.


If the rule becomes final, Pennsylvania will be the first major coal-producing state to require a tougher-than-federal limit on mercury emissions from power plants. Pennsylvania is second only to Texas in its level of mercury emissions.


"This is an extraordinarily important step on a pollutant that is extraordinarily dangerous, especially to babies," said Kathleen A. McGinty, Rendell's top environmental adviser.


The proposed rule must still undergo a legal review by the state attorney general's office and receive approval from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


The commission voted 3-2 along party lines, with Democrats supporting it. The Republican-controlled Legislature could still stop the rule from going forward, but any measure would have to be signed by the Democratic governor.


Mercury that becomes airborne in the coal-burning process works its way up the food chain, accumulating in plants, fish and humans. Children and fetuses are particularly vulnerable to the toxic metal, which can damage the development of the nervous system.


Power-plant owners warned that the expense of complying with a tougher rule would force some smaller coal-fired power plants out of business, drive up electricity bills and send power-plant jobs out of the state.


"To get that last little bit out is going to cost hundreds of millions of dollars more for what we would see as very little environmental benefit," said George Lewis, spokesman for Allentown-based PPL Corp.


Industry officials prefer the federal approach, which pairs reductions in mercury pollution with an interstate "credit-trading" program. It lets power plants emit more mercury if they buy credits from other power plants that exceed pollution-cutting goals, even if those plants are in other states.


The Rendell administration refused to include that program in its rule, saying it believes the program violates federal laws on toxic pollutants.


Overall, Rendell's proposal would seek a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions by 2015.


Source: Associated Press


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