The Problems of Mercury Poisoning From Coal Plants Related To a Cap-And-Trade Emissions Program

22 states are in the process of considering tougher mercury emissions regulations than those proposed by the EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule.  These states want to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired plants by 90%.  Why would these states take this action?  Isn’t the EPA protecting us adequately?

The answers to these questions explain why Kansas must also strengthen our mercury emissions regulations or face a future where pregnant women, and eventually all people, will never be able to safely eat fish from our fresh water lakes and streams.  Pregnant women who eat fish with high levels of mercury contamination risk having children with damaged brain functions.  Mercury poisoning is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease and autism.  The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) has already issued warnings to pregnant women in northeast Kansas not to eat fish from our fresh waters.  And now, the state legislature is working to support the construction of several additional coal plants in Kansas.

Is the EPA protecting us from mercury the way they should?  Their controversial Clean Air Mercury Rule aims to reduce mercury emissions by 70% by 2018.  States are supposed to submit plans on how they expect to meet that 70% goal by November 17, 2006.  What makes the EPA Rule controversial is that many people believe it is far too weak.  Critics of the Rule point to the fact that the EPA is actually calling for a maximum 70% reduction in mercury emissions.  While the idea of making the 70% a mere maximum is certainly controversial, the danger to Kansas comes from the cap-and-trade provision in the Rule.  That provision allows utilities to trade emissions credits.  If Kansas doesn’t enact a tougher 90% reduction rule ourselves we will become a mercury hotspot and greatly increase our toxic mercury levels.

Here is a further explanation of the risk we face.  Electricity in Kansas comes mainly from coal-fired plants so we are at greater risk to mercury poisoning than other states.  A cap-and-trade system doesn’t reduce mercury poisoning evenly around the country.  The states that enact the 90% reduction rules sooner will be able to sell their credits, while those states that didn’t enact tougher mercury regulations end up holding the mercury bag so to speak.  Mercury would continue to rain down on us seriously damaging our well-being.

Are there solutions to reducing mercury emissions?  There are.  They are expensive, but they work.  One of the systems capable of 90% reductions works by injecting carbon powder into the flue gas of a coal plant.  The mercury in the stream of gas combines with the carbon and becomes a new powder which can be picked up by the system’s electrostatic precipitator or filter bag house.  The cost to remove a pound of mercury with this method is about $10,000.  Plants in Kansas emit around 2,000 pounds of mercury so it is expensive.  But it is less expensive than the cost of trying to remove the mercury from our fresh waters, the costs of which would start at around $1 BILLION!

We must get our legislature to require 90% reductions in our mercury emissions.  If we don’t we are simply poisoning ourselves and state wildlife to death.

By Joe Spease, Legislative Chair

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