The EPA recently finalized its mercury reduction plan for coal-burning power plants. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage developing children. Now 16 states are taking the EPA to court, saying the so-called “cap-and-trade” plan doesn’t go far enough. The GLRC’s Gregory Warner reports:
The EPA recently finalized its mercury reduction plan for coal-burning power
plants. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage developing children. Now
16 states are taking the EPA to court saying
the so-called “cap-and-trade” plan doesn’t go far enough. The GLRC’s
Gregory Warner reports:
The coalition of states filed the suit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the
DC Circuit, challenging the cap-and-trade rule.
Cap-and-trade allows operators of older power plants to swap pollution
credits with newer plants instead of minimizing their own emissions.
EPA regulators say their program will cut mercury pollution by 70 percent over the
next 12 years. The states say mercury is too dangerous for a go-slow
approach. Emily Green is with the Sierra Club:
“Just a little bit can cause major problems for children’s health in
particular, so right now we have the technology to reduce mercury from coal
plants by 90 percent, that’s what we should do.”
In contrast to the EPA rule, more than 20 states have adopted or are moving
to adopt more stringent rules to reduce mercury emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency under President Bush is punishing fewer polluters than under previous administrations. That’s according to analysis done by the Knight Ridder news service. More from the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mark Brush:
The Environmental Protection Agency under President Bush is punishing fewer
polluters than under previous administrations. That’s according to analysis
done by the Knight Ridder news service. More from the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Mark Brush:
Investigators looked at environmental enforcement records dating back to
1989. They found that under the current Bush administration – enforcement
has dropped significantly when compared to the Clinton and the first Bush
administration. The EPA averaged close to 200 citations a month under Bush
Senior. And now, that average has dropped to 77 citations a month under
George W. Bush.
Joel Mintz is the author of a book on the history of EPA enforcement. He
says enforcement is crucial to the agency.
“I think it’s critical really. It’s at the heart of what any regulatory
agency does. Without enforcement, environmental laws would have no teeth.
They just would not be taken seriously.”
EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt says the numbers are lower because they’re
practicing what he calls “smart enforcement.” He says they’re working with
businesses – developing incentives for companies not to pollute – instead of
focusing on punishment.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Mark Brush.
For the first time, the U.S. government is preparing to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Part of the administration’s proposal is to use a market-based approach, called “cap-and-trade.” People in the energy business say “cap-and-trade” programs are proven tools to protect the environment at a lower cost. But some critics say a pollutant as toxic as mercury should have a more traditional and tougher regulatory program. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner reports:
For the first time, the U.S. government is preparing to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired
power plants. Part of the administration’s proposal is to use a market-based approach, called “cap-
and-trade.” People in the energy business say “cap-and-trade” programs are proven tools to protect
the environment at a lower cost. But some critics say a pollutant as toxic as mercury should have a
more traditional and tougher regulatory program. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner
Thirty-four years ago, the nation saw its first fish consumption advisory. The state of Michigan
warned people not to eat too much fish from Lake St. Clair, which sits between lakes Huron and
Erie, not too far from Detroit. Michigan environmental officials discovered high levels of mercury
in many kinds of fish. Dow Chemical was dumping 200 to a thousand pounds of mercury a day
through a pipe straight into the St. Clair River.
John Hesse worked for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources back them. Hesse and his
colleagues found that people who ate fish from the lake twice a week or more had unsafe levels of
mercury in their system.
Hesse says in the U.S., the biggest mercury danger is to unborn babies whose mothers eat
“In children exposed at an early stage, they have a slower developmental pattern, onset of
walking might be affected, learning disabilities. It might be very subtle, but still affecting the
The government has stopped a lot of that kind of pollution. But, mercury is still a big problem.
Today, coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution. The Bush
administration is calling for a cap-and-trade program to regulate mercury emissions.
Here’s how cap-and-trade works. The “cap” part sets national goals for reducing pollution and it
doles out pollution credits to each power plant based on those goals.
The “trade” part of cap-and-trade lets industries buy, sell or bank pollution credits to stay under
federal limits. It’s a lot like trading commodities in the markets. For example, a company that
pollutes over the limit can buy credits from companies that pollute less. Every plant might not
become cleaner, but nationwide mercury pollution would still be reduced.
Such a program’s been in place since 1990 for sulfur dioxide, a main component of acid rain.
Ohio-based American Electric Power is the biggest player in the sulfur dioxide trading game. The
company’s Dale Heydlauff says emissions trading is good for industry and for the environment.
“There was actually an incentive for utilities to, very early in the program, overcomply –
reduce emissions more than the law required, bank those allowances or those credits and
then trade them either with other facilities within your own company, or with external
parties whose cost of control is higher.”
In fact, sulfur dioxide emissions trading has saved American Electric Power 20- to 30-percent of
what it would cost to retro-fit all of its plants.
Heydlauff and others in the energy business say the EPA’s cap-and-trade plan is the right way to
deal with mercury, too. They say it’s better than traditional programs that demand expensive
upgrades on every plant. Heydlauff says there’s no proven technology to reduce mercury
emissions that will work everywhere.
“So what the trading system does for mercury, is it allows us to innovate. It allows us to
achieve the environmental requirement at a lower cost, but also through a variety of
There’s one major difference between a cap-and-trade program for sulfur dioxide and mercury –
mercury is toxic to people. Environmentalists and people who’ve studied mercury say there’s more
at stake here than just economic costs.
David Gard is with the Michigan Environmental Council. He says there is technology available
today to cut mercury emissions. Gard says municipal and medical waste incinerators have used it
to cut mercury pollution by 90 percent. But Gard says power companies won’t embrace that
because installing the equipment would cost more money. Gard calls the Bush administration’s less
restrictive cap-and-trade programs a gift to the energy industry.
“The percentage reductions that they’re proposing are well below what we know available
technology and near-term technology can deliver. And also, for one of their proposals, it
would delay reductions by almost a full decade, out to 2018, when really, we should be
expecting major reductions from these sources by 2010.”
Gard also worries that a cap-and-trade program could worsen mercury hot spots – places where
contamination is more concentrated. He says under cap-and-trade, companies could pick and
choose which plants in their system to upgrade. Gard says that could leave some communities with
dirty air and big health concerns.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.
Four Great Lakes states have some of the most severe cases of mercury contamination in the country. That’s according to a recent report by the group Environmental Defense. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner has more:
Four Great Lakes states have some of the most severe cases of mercury contamination in the
country. That’s according to a recent report by the group “Environmental Defense.” The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Erin Toner has more:
Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania made the group’s top 10 list of places with the worst
mercury pollution. Mercury can cause brain damage in babies whose mothers eat contaminated
fish. The report says mercury in the ground and water often comes from local sources, such as
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working on new mercury rules for power plants.
But Michael Shore, of Environmental Defense, says the rules aren’t strong enough.
Other sectors have been required to reduce their mercury pollution by 90 percent. These
standards would only reduce mercury pollution by 70 percent. Also, these standards wouldn’t be
in place until 2018.
The EPA’s policy could use a market-based approach. That allows companies to buy pollution
credits from others that have emission controls in place. Environmentalists say instead, the EPA
should force all power companies to pollute less.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Erin Toner.
Trading credits for air pollution reduction just went online. The EPA has set up its emissions trading system on the Internet. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
Trading credits for air pollution reduction just went on-line. The EPA has set up its emissions trading system on the Internet. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports.
The EPA’s 20-billion dollar emissions trading market has been around for awhile. It allows companies that reduce pollution below mandated levels to sell the remainder of their allowances to other companies that have not met mandated reductions. But trading has been paperwork intensive. Forms have had to be sent into the EPA for processing, delaying the trade by days. Now the EPA has harnessed the Internet, allowing the more than two thousand companies enrolled to trade online. Brian McLean is the Director of the EPA’s Clean Air Markets Division.
“It speeds up the trading process which therefore saves on the cost of buying and selling and moving these allowances and the more we can take advantage of lower cost emission reductions.”
The EPA says the trading system helps companies meet the goal set by Congress in 1980 to cut overall emissions in half by 2010.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium I’m Lester Graham.