From: Paula Reed Ward, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Published August 4, 2005 12:00 AM

Environmental Group Seeks Limits on Mercury

A Pennsylvania environmental group said it will urge the state Department of Environmental Protection to move forward with stricter mercury regulations, despite a letter sent by three legislators who say they're not necessary.

The letter, sent by the chairmen of both the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy committees, questions the need for state-specific regulations when the federal Environmental Protection Agency just introduced new standards in March.

"While we agree that mercury is a serious pollutant that needs to be addressed, there is an overriding concern of pursuing individual state action on a pollutant that is a national and even global problem," wrote Sen. Mary Jo White, R-Venango; Rep. William F. Adolph Jr., R-Delaware; and Sen. Raphael J. Musto, D-Luzerne.

Because U.S. utilities contribute only about 2 percent of global mercury emissions, it raises "serious questions over whether even U.S. residents -- let alone Pennsylvanians -- would be the recipients of the benefits of a more stringent, state-specific mercury emission standard," they wrote. But the group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future says that statement is misguided.

"We believe the threat to public health is well-documented," said Jan Jarrett, vice president of the organization, also known as PennFuture.


Mercury is a neurotoxin that builds up in the food chain after it is released into the air when coal is burned. Fish are the primary way that humans are exposed to mercury, and those most vulnerable include pregnant women and young children.

The new federal rule establishes a cap-and-trade program to control mercury emissions at some, but not all, coal-fired power plants to achieve reductions of up to 70 percent by 2018.

The state DEP filed a federal lawsuit in May along with 10 other states, claiming that the federal rule is not strong enough and will not protect the public health.

Four of the top eight mercury emitting power plants in the U.S. are in Pennsylvania.

To reduce those emissions, PennFuture filed a petition last summer asking the state Environmental Quality Board, which must approve DEP rule changes, to adopt regulations for mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania.

On Aug. 16, DEP will go to the board and recommend that the agency move forward with creating new emission standards.

Richard Fox, executive director of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, believes implementing more stringent regulations for coal-burning power plants could result in higher electric rates for customers. That, in turn, could force those consumers to look elsewhere for power, causing a hardship for Pennsylvania's economy.

Jarrett disagrees with that assessment, citing mercury "hot spots" where local emissions have caused even higher buildups of the pollutant. She believes the primary concern among the legislators writing the letter is the expense power plants would incur in implementing the stricter regulations.

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