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Pennsylvania Governor Edward G. Rendell has announced the state's Environmental Quality Board, an independent regulatory review panel, has approved a plan that will cut toxic mercury emissions from coal- fired power plants in Pennsylvania by 90 percent by 2015. The state- specific plan would supersede a weaker rule put in place by the federal government.

"This is a tremendous victory for public health, the environment and our economy," Governor Rendell said. "Efforts to attract new investment and keep young people here are undermined as families and businesses understand that Pennsylvania is laden with more toxic mercury pollution than nearly anywhere else in the U.S. Our residents deserve better."

The 20-member EQB voted 17-3 to approve the state plan, which drew 10,934 responses --- a record for a rulemaking in Pennsylvania --- during a public comment period that included three hearings in July. Nearly all of the commentators supported Governor Rendell's approach over the ineffective federal rule; fewer than three dozen opposed the state plan.

Other approvals, including that by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, still are needed before the EQB action is final.

"I know that IRRC members already have invested a great deal of time with the Department of Environmental Protection and others in review of this state- specific plan," Governor Rendell said. "It is my hope that like the Environmental Quality Board, IRRC similarly will support this rule that means so much for our commonwealth and its residents."

Pennsylvania must submit its plan to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by Nov. 17, describing how the state will implement and enforce its own more protective standards for coal-fired power plants.

Pennsylvania has 36 plants with 78 electric generating units that represent 20,000 megawatts of capacity. The commonwealth is second, behind only Texas, both in terms of total mercury emissions from all sources and the total amount of mercury pollution coming from power plants. Nearly 80 percent of the 5 tons of mercury emitted in Pennsylvania comes from power plants.

The two-step state-specific plan requires an 80 percent reduction in mercury emissions by 2010, and a 90 percent reduction by 2015. Trading of mercury allowances is prohibited.

"This is a substantive rule that has undergone exhaustive review," Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen A. McGinty said. "What is clear is that the public health and environmental benefits that Pennsylvania will achieve by taking effective action to reduce mercury emissions are significant."

EPA's Office of Wetlands, Oceans and Watersheds found that a 30 percent to 100 percent reduction of mercury emissions nationally would translate into a $600 million to $2 billion cost savings. The cost savings were attributed largely to reduced health risks, including cardiovascular disease.

A study prepared by the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis revealed that EPA miscalculated the "nature of the risk involved" when it devised its rule. This study found the public benefit of reducing power plant mercury emissions to 15 tons per year ranges from $119 million annually (if only persistent IQ deficits from fetal exposures to methylmercury are counted) to as much as $5.2 billion annually (if IQ deficits, cardiovascular effects and premature mortality are counted).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that about 6 percent of women have mercury levels in their blood above what the National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and EPA say is safe. That means each year an estimated 600,000 babies are born who have been exposed to unsafe levels of mercury in the womb.

Mercury is a persistent, bio-accumulative neurotoxin that can remain active in the environment for more than 10,000 years. It endangers pregnant women, children, subsistence fishermen and recreational anglers who are most at risk for health effects that include brain and nervous system damage in children and heart and immune system damage for adults.

Pennsylvania's state-specific plan was crafted after an enhanced stakeholder process that featured a diverse group of public and private individuals who met four times to examine technology, emission control levels, testing, monitoring, record keeping and reporting, compliance schedules, health effects, power generation capacity, infrastructure and economic competitiveness.

Details about Pennsylvania's state-specific mercury reduction plan are available on DEP's Web site at

For more information, call 717/783-1116.
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Publication:Industrial Environment
Date:Nov 1, 2006

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