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MERCURY EMISSIONS: environment & legislation
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9 states have gone into court over the Bush Administration changes in Mercury emissions.

 

Union of Concerned Scientists, the finest source for information on environmental issues, at www.ucusa.org

 

SCIENTIFIC INTEGRITY:  Information on Power Plant Mercury Emissions Censored. 

Part of the Scientific Integrity in Policmaking, signed by over 60 leading scientists in 04.

The George W. Bush administration has long attempted to avoid issuing new standards to regulate mercury emissions by coal-fired power plants based on Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT), as required by the Clean Air Act.29 Mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause brain damage and harm reproduction in women and wildlife; coal-fired power plants are the nation’s largest source of mercury air emissions, emitting about 48 tons annually.30

As a prelude to the current debate, published accounts to date have documented that senior Bush officials suppressed and sought to manipulate government information about mercury contained in an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on children’s health and the environment. As the EPA readied the report for completion in May 2002, the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) began a lengthy review of the document. In February 2003, after nine months of delay by the White House, a frustrated EPA official leaked the draft report to the Wall Street Journal, including its finding that eight percent of women between the ages of 16 and 49 have mercury levels in the blood that could lead to reduced IQ and motor skills in their offspring.31

The finding provides strong evidence in direct contradiction to the administration’s desired policy of reducing regulation on coal-fired power plants and was, many sources suspect, the reason for the lengthy suppression by the White House. On February 24, 2003, just days after the leak, the EPA’s report was finally released to the public.32 Perhaps most troubling about this incident is that the report may never have surfaced at all had it not been leaked to the press.

In a more recent development, the new rules the EPA has finally proposed for regulating power plants’ mercury emissions were discovered to have no fewer than 12 paragraphs lifted, sometimes verbatim, from a legal document prepared by industry lawyers.33 Chagrined EPA officials contend that the language crept into their proposed rules “through the interagency process.” But Robert Perciasepe, who headed the EPA air policy office during the Clinton administration, stated the obvious when he called the wholesale use of industry language “inappropriate.” As Perciasepe told a Washington Post reporter, “The regulations are supposed to be drafted by the staff—the people in the science program and regulatory branches.”34

Drawing upon interviews with no fewer than five current career employees, reporters at the Los Angeles Times have exposed in detail the process that led to the proposed mercury regulations. According to these and other sources, political appointees at the EPA completely bypassed agency professional and scientific staff as well as a federal advisory panel in crafting the proposed new rules.35

Bruce C. Buckheit, who retired in December 2003 as director of EPA’s Air Enforcement Division after serving in major federal environmental posts for two decades, says that his enforcement division was not even allowed to review the mercury regulations prior to their release. As Buckheit puts it, “the new mercury rules were hatched at the White House; the Environmental Protection Agency’s experts were simply not consulted at all.”36

In particular, EPA staff members say they pointed out the fact that comparative scientific studies of the effects of the proposed rules were required by EPA procedure. But these sources contend that they were explicitly told by Jeffrey R. Holmstead, head of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, that such studies would not be conducted partly because of “White House concern.”37 Buckheit and other EPA veterans say they cannot recall another instance when the agency’s technical experts were so thoroughly shut out of the process in developing a major regulatory proposal. According to Buckheit, the incident is representative of “a degree of politicization of the work of the Environmental Protection Agency that goes beyond anything I have seen in my career in government.”38

In the wake of these serious allegations, EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt has reportedly ordered additional studies of the effects of the proposed mercury rule. Administrator Leavitt has also said information related to media reports on the agency’s inclusion of industry-drafted language in its proposed rule has been forwarded to the EPA’s inspector general for possible investigation.39

April 2005 Update

In February 2005, the EPA’s own inspector general reported that agency scientists had been pressured to change their scientific findings in order to justify the Administration’s industry-friendly rules. The report recommended that additional analysis was needed before the rule was finalized. Days later, a Government Accountability Office report found that the EPA had distorted its analysis of the health impacts of mercury on brain development in children and fetuses.

 

Despite these warnings, and to the great dismay of scientists and public health professionals, the EPA issued its final rule on March 15, 2005 without revisiting the egregiously manipulated and distorted science behind the rule. Find a link to a March 16 Los Angeles Times article describing the process in the box above.

After the rule was finalized, the Washington Post reported that EPA officials purposefully omitted the results of a Harvard study—paid for by taxpayer dollars—which showed that the costs of mercury pollution and the benefits of a regulation stronger than the administration’s proposal were higher than previously thought. 

29. E. Pianin, “White House, EPA Move to Ease Mercury Rules,” Washington Post, December 3, 2003.
30. See “EPA proposes options for significantly reducing mercury emissions,”
December 15, 2003. Online at
www.epa.gov/mercury/mercuryfact12-15final.pdf See also Mercury MACT Proposed Rule and other source material at www.nwf.org/news.
31. J.J. Fialka, “Mercury Threat to Kids Rising, Unreleased EPA Report Warns,” Wall Street Journal,
February 20, 2003
.
32. “
America’s Children and the Environment: Measures of Contaminants, Body Burdens, and Illnesses,” Second Edition, February 2003. Online at
www.epa.gov/envirohealth/children/ace_2003.pdf.
33. See E. Pianin, “Proposed Mercury Rules Bear Industry Mark,”
Washington Post, January 31, 2004
.
34. Ibid.
35. Tom Hamburger and Alan C. Miller, “Mercury Emissions Rule Geared to Benefit Industry, Staffers Say,” Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2004 and author interviews with two other current EPA staff members, names withheld on request, March 2004.
36. Author interview with Bruce Buckheit, March 2004.
37. As quoted in Hamburger and Miller,
Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2004
. It is also highly relevant to note that, prior to his appointment by the current administration, Jeffrey R. Holmstead served as an attorney representing industry interests on air pollution issues at Latham & Watkins, one of the firms responsible for the exact wording of the text in the EPA’s proposed mercury rule.
38. Author interviews with Bruce Buckheit and with two other current EPA staff members, names withheld on request, March 2004.
39. “IG May Launch Investigation Into Industry Influence Over EPA Mercury Plan,” Inside EPA,
March 25, 2004.

 

 

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 27, 2004


Press contact: Linda Greer or Jon Devine, 202-289-6868
If you are not a member of the press, please write to us at
nrdcinfo@nrdc.org or see our contact page.

 

 

Bush Mercury Policy Threatens the Health of Women and Children

The Bush administration recently took several actions addressing mercury pollution that will fail to protect the public from this potent neurotoxin. On December 11, the Food and Drug Administration asked an advisory committee to approve an inadequate dietary advisory for eating mercury-contaminated fish. FDA is expected to release the final fish-consumption advisory with no significant revisions. On December 19, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a weak rule regulating how chlorine plants handle mercury, acknowledging that it cannot account for at least 65 tons of the chemical the plants may be emitting every year, and eliminated previous pollution control requirements. And in late January, the EPA issued a proposed rule that would weaken and delay efforts to clean up mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Like lead, mercury threatens the brain and nervous system. Mercury exposure can lead to neurological diseases and such developmental problems as learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders and mental retardation. The effects of prenatal and infant mercury exposure include the inability to recall and process information, and impaired visual and fine motor skills.1 Mercury exposure also can affect an adult's nervous system, causing nerve cell death and scarring in select areas of the brain.2

Women and children are at most risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the EPA. One in six women of childbearing age have mercury in their blood above the level that would pose a risk to a developing fetus.3 4 Thus, some 630,000 newborns are threatened every year by neurological impairment from exposure in-utero. Infants and children also are endangered because their developing brains are extremely sensitive to mercury, which they can ingest from breast milk and contaminated fish. 5 Meanwhile, elevated mercury levels in adults can adversely affect fertility, blood pressure regulation, and may contribute to heart-rate variability and heart disease.6 7

 

Mercury Emissions Contaminate Fish

Americans are primarily exposed to mercury by eating certain fish. Industrial facilities emit the chemical into the environment, and a particularly dangerous form of it -- methylmercury -- accumulates in the tissue of large predator fish, such as shark, swordfish and tuna.

Mercury pollution has contaminated 12 million acres of lakes, estuaries and wetlands -- 30 percent of the national total -- and 473,000 miles of streams, rivers and coastlines. Last year, 44 states issued warnings about eating mercury-contaminated fish, a 63 percent jump from 1993, when 27 states issued such warnings. Nineteen states have issued statewide advisories for mercury in freshwater lakes and rivers, and 10 states have issued advisories for canned tuna.8

In January, the FDA unveiled a new draft advisory warning the public about eating mercury-contaminated fish. The proposal, however, fails to provide specific advice about some of the most highly contaminated fish. For example, it does not mention grouper and orange roughy, two popular fish dinner entrees. It also does not mention the risks of eating tuna, specifically canned albacore tuna and tuna steaks, which contain higher mercury concentrations than canned light tuna.

FDA's proposed advisory states that adults can safely eat as much as 12 ounces of a variety of fish per week, without acknowledging that there are combinations of fish types that consumers cannot safely eat together. It also does not provide specific advice for parents with young children. The advisory states that children should eat less than 12 ounces of fish a week, but does not specify how much less. Based on FDA data, a 22-pound toddler who eats 2 ounces (one-third of a 6-ounce can) of albacore tuna a week would ingest nearly three times the EPA's safe level, and an 88-pound child eating 6 ounces would be exposed to twice EPA's safe level. NRDC criticized the FDA when it announced the proposal, charging that it is providing advice that is of no real use to parents and other consumers. (Click here for more information.)

 

Sources of Mercury Pollution

The major sources of mercury pollution are chlorine -- or chlor-alkali -- chemical plants, coal-fired power plants, and iron and steel plants that recycle automobile parts. Experts estimate that chlorine plants might emit as much as 100 tons of mercury a year.9 Coal-fired power plants emit 48 tons of mercury every year.10 Light switches in automobiles often contain mercury, which is released when cars are melted for recycling at iron and steel plants. This process emits 10 to 12 tons of mercury into the air annually.11

Not Accounting for the Chlorine Industry's "Lost" Mercury: There are only nine mercury chlorine plants in the United States that still use outdated mercury technology. These plants use 50-foot long vats, called "cells," that contain thousands of pounds of mercury. Each plant typically has 56 cells, each holding 8,000 pounds of mercury, which they use to conduct an electrical charge to extract chlorine from salt. The process produces chlorine gas and caustic soda, which is used in soaps and detergents. At any given time each plant has an average of 300 tons of mercury on site, and collectively they use as much as 100 tons of mercury annually to replenish the amount lost in the manufacturing process. They cannot account for where the "lost" mercury goes.

The EPA cannot account for the missing mercury, either. When the agency issued its new rule regulating chlorine plants' handling of mercury, it concluded, "The fate of all the mercury consumed at mercury cell chlor-alkali plants remains somewhat of an enigma."12

Not only did the agency fail to investigate what happens to the lost mercury, it rolled back previous pollution control requirements. The agency argued that it is not feasible to measure mercury emissions from chlorine plants because the evaporating mercury escapes through open doors and vents in the ceiling, not through a smokestack. But an EPA regulation established in 1975 specified that chlorine plants could measure their emissions by routing evaporated mercury to smokestacks, and required them to keep their mercury emissions below 2,300 grams per day. The new EPA rule eliminates this requirement, allowing the plants to emit unlimited amounts of mercury.

In mid-February, NRDC and the Sierra Club sued the EPA for failing to address lost mercury pollution from the plants and eliminating pollution control requirements (Click here for more information).

Allowing More Mercury Pollution for a Longer Time: The EPA also has proposed to weaken and delay efforts to clean up mercury emissions from roughly 1,100 coal-fired boilers at more than 460 electric power plants, the largest unregulated source of mercury. At the end of January, when the agency was forced to issue its final plan to control power plant mercury pollution by an NRDC lawsuit, it issued a feeble proposal that would allow coal-fired power plants to emit seven times more mercury than allowed by current law for at least 15 more years.

Essentially, EPA's plan treats mercury as if it were a run-of-the-mill air pollutant instead of a hazardous air pollutant, allowing the agency to avoid requiring power plants to reduce emissions using "maximum achievable control technology."13 During the Clinton administration, EPA experts determined that requiring coal-fired power plants to install technology to achieve the maximum achievable reductions would cut mercury pollution by 90 percent within three years -- from nearly 50 tons to 5 tons annually.14

None of the three alternatives EPA is proposing now for regulating mercury would achieve the reductions required by Clean Air Act for a hazardous air pollutant. In fact, the agency's preferred alternative would require only a 30 percent emissions reduction over 15 years and allow some plants to avoid controls entirely by buying and banking pollution "credits" from cleaner plants.15

Giving Most Iron and Steel Plants a Free Pass: Finally, last September EPA issued a new rule requiring only 10 percent of the nation's iron and steel plants to ensure their scrap metal is free of mercury switches.16 By simply ensuring that mercury switches are removed from cars before they are scrapped, the iron and steel industry could eliminate a substantial source of mercury.

 

We Can Cut Mercury Pollution Now

The technology exists today to drastically reduce the amount of mercury in our environment. What is missing is the political will.

Ninety percent of the facilities currently producing chlorine and caustic soda use mercury-free technology. Only nine plants still use the antiquated, dangerous mercury-based process. The EPA is shirking its responsibility to regulate these plants, which might be emitting as much as twice the amount of all the coal-fired power plants in the nation. NRDC urges the federal government to require the nine plants to switch to newer, cleaner technology and, if necessary, offer them incentives to do so.

Likewise, the EPA must aggressively address mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. Its new proposal likely violates the Clean Air Act, which calls for maximum achievable control technology (MACT) for hazardous pollutants. The EPA must reconsider its proposed "cap and trade" program, which would allow power plants to pay to pollute and continue to release dangerous amounts of toxic mercury into the environment.

Finally, the federal government must warn consumers about mercury in fish. NRDC has asked the FDA to set a safe upper limit for consuming each species of mercury-contaminated fish, including tuna. NRDC also recommends that the agency require supermarkets and fish markets to post clearly written advisories in their stores to inform the public about which fish are safe to eat and in what quantities.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1 million members and e-activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Notes

1. "Mercury Study Report to Congress, Volume 1: Executive Summary," EPA-452/R-97-003, 1997.

2. "Mercury Study Report to Congress, Volume VII: Characterization of Human and Wildlife Risks from Mercury Exposure in the United States," EPA-452/R-97-009, 1997.

3. "Second National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 2003.

4. "U.S. EPA Presentation to the Fish Forum," Mahaffey, Kathryn R., San Diego, January 2004.

5. "Mercury Study Report to Congress, Volume 1: Executive Summary," EPA-452/R-97-003, 1997.

6. "Toxicological Effects of Methylmercury," National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2000.

7. "High Levels Toxicology Effects of Methylmercury," National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 2000.

8. "U.S. EPA National Listing of Fish and Wildlife Advisories," EPA, May 2003.

9. NRDC estimates based on data from the Chlorine Institute, "Sixth Annual Report to EPA," May 12, 2003, and "EPA 2001 Toxic Release Inventory" at http://www.epa.gov/tri/.

10. "Mercury Study Report to Congress, Volume II: An Inventory of Anthropogenic Mercury Emissions in the United States," EPA-452/R-97-004, 1997.

11. NRDC estimates based on data from the Clean Car Campaign. American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, Ecology Center, Environmental Defense, Great Lakes United, Michigan Environmental Council and Union of Concerned Scientists. http://www.cleancarcampaign.org/mercury.shtml

12. "National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Mercury Emissions From Mercury Cell Chlor-Alkali Plants Proposed Rules," Federal Register, 40CFR Part 63, July 3, 2002.

13. "Proposed National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants," and "Proposed and New Standards for New and Existing Stationary Sources: Electric Utility Steam Generating Units, Proposed Rule, Federal Register, 40 CFR Part 60 and 63, January 30, 2004, http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/30jan20041000/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2004/pdf/04-1539.pdf

14. "U.S. EPA Presentation to Edison Electric Institute," December 4, 2001.

15. NRDC estimates based on data from the Clean Car Campaign. American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, Ecology Center, Environmental Defense, Great Lakes United, Michigan Environmental Council and Union of Concerned Scientists. http://www.cleancarcampaign.org/mercury.shtml

16. "National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Iron and Steel Foundries," Federal Register, 40 CFR Part 63, September 2002. http://www.epa.gov/ttn/oarpg/t3/fr_notices/isf_fr2.pdf

 

HOW BAD IS COAL POWER PLANTS?

 

http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02c.html

 

By Union of Concerned Scientists

 

 

 

 

 

  • Burning coal is a leading cause of smog, acid rain, global warming, and air toxics. In an average year, a typical coal plant generates:
  • 3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary human cause of global warming--as much carbon dioxide as cutting down 161 million trees.
  • 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), which causes acid rain that damages forests, lakes, and buildings, and forms small airborne particles that can penetrate deep into lungs.
  • 500 tons of small airborne particles, which can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death, as well as haze obstructing visibility.
  • 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), as much as would be emitted by half a million late-model cars. NOx leads to formation of ozone (smog) which inflames the lungs, burning through lung tissue making people more susceptible to respiratory illness.
  • 720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), which causes headaches and place additional stress on people with heart disease.
  • 220 tons of hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC), which form ozone.
  • 170 pounds of mercury, where just 1/70th of a teaspoon deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat.
  • 225 pounds of arsenic, which will cause cancer in one out of 100 people who drink water containing 50 parts per billion.
  • 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium.

 

 

 

 

A typical (500 megawatt) coal plant burns 1.4 million tons of coal each year. There are about 600 U.S. coal plants

Waste created by a typical 500-megawatt coal plant includes more than 125,000 tons of ash and 193,000 tons of sludge from the smokestack scrubber each year. Nationally, more than 75% of this waste is disposed of in unlined, unmonitored onsite landfills and surface impoundments.

Toxic substances in the waste -- including arsenic, mercury, chromium, and cadmium -- can contaminate drinking water supplies and damage vital human organs and the nervous system. One study found that one out of every 100 children who drink groundwater contaminated with arsenic from coal power plant wastes were at risk of developing cancer. Ecosystems too have been damaged -- sometimes severely or permanently -- by the disposal of coal plant waste.

 

Cooling water discharge

Once the 2.2 billion gallons of water have cycled through the coal-fired power plant, they are released back into the lake, river, or ocean. This water is hotter (by up to 20-25 F) than the water that receives it. This "thermal pollution" can decrease fertility and increase heart rates in fish. Typically, power plants also add chlorine or other toxic chemicals to their cooling water to decrease algae growth. These chemicals are also discharged back into the environment.

 

Waste heat

Much of the heat produced from burning coal is wasted. A typical coal power plant uses only 33-35% of the coal's heat to produce electricity. The majority of the heat is released into the atmosphere or absorbed by the cooling water.

 

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People get the government that they deserve. Politicans such as Bush are elected because if the common person was in office, he would become another venal politican