Sunday, February 10, 2008

The New River Foundation recently signed on to help fight the construction of a coal fired power plant in Western North Carolina. The plant as proposed would deposit unacceptable amounts of mercury into the environment. Below are two news releases concerning this endeavor:

Federal court ruling will send Cliffside air permit back to the drawing board for more stringent mercury controls

Washington, D.C,. – A federal court ruling today will require the N.C. Division of Air Quality to re-evaluate Duke Energy’s plans to control mercury at the utility’s recently permitted Cliffside unit. The D.C Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that EPA violated the Clean Air Act when it removed oil- and coal-fired power plants from the list of hazardous air pollution sources that are subject to the Act’s most stringent air pollution controls. As a result, air permits for new coal plants such as Cliffside must be based on a case-by-case analysis of the maximum available control technology for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants.

The N.C. Division of Air Quality (DAQ) issued a final air permit for the new Cliffside unit just last week, on January 28 that allows the new Cliffside unit to emit 133 pounds of mercury each year. In January, SELC notified DAQ of the anticipated federal decision and urged the Division to consider these expected mercury regulations when developing its final permit.

However, DAQ’s permit does not require a case-specific analysis of maximum available control technology (MACT) for mercury, and the permit does not require Duke to install mercury-specific pollution control equipment. The D.C. Circuit’s ruling means that DAQ must rescind the final Cliffside air permit, go back to the drawing board to conduct a case-specific MACT analysis, and issue a revised draft permit for public comment before finalizing a new permit.

Because mercury is classified as “hazardous,” the Clean Air Act requires EPA to identify its sources and develop the most stringent standards to control emissions from those sources. The court ruled today that EPA acted illegally when it took power plants off the list of hazardous pollution sources when issuing its Clean Air Mercury Rule.

Released in May 2005, the federal Clean Air Mercury Rule exempted power plants from the most stringent Clean Air Act requirements to control mercury and instead instituted a flawed “cap and trade” scheme, which allows facilities to trade mercury pollution credits with other less-polluting power plants. As a result of the D.C. Circuit’s ruling today, EPA and the states must now develop tougher regulations to control mercury and other toxic pollutants from new and existing power plants, the leading source of mercury pollution in the country. Today’s ruling could result in a 95 percent or greater reduction of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants

Mercury emitted from power plants deposits in water bodies, where it is converted to its most toxic form, methylmercury. Methylmercury exposure from eating contaminated fish is linked to permanent damage to the central nervous system.

Developing fetuses, breast-fed infants and children exposed to methylmercury are at risk for lowered intelligence and learning disabilities. Adults exposed to even low amounts of methylmercury also may be at higher risk for altered sensation, impaired hearing and vision, and motor disturbances. EPA estimates that as many as than 600,000 children are born each year with unhealthy levels of methylmercury in their bodies. Despite this figure, EPA adopted the flawed mercury rule ignoring the counsel of its own Children’s Health Public Advisory Committee and thousands of health professionals nationwide.

D.C. Circuit Court Declares EPA’s Mercury Rule Illegal
Waterkeeper Wins Mercury Battle

Irvington, New York (February 8, 2008) – In a complete victory for public and environmental health, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today invalidated a pair of EPA rules that would have allowed coal-fired power plants to overwhelm waterways, fish and communities with harmful levels of mercury for decades to come. The Court found EPA’s 2005 rules removing power plants from the Clean Air Act’s list of toxic sources and creating an anemic “cap and trade” regulatory scheme to be in violation of the Act.

Waterkeeper Alliance, as part of a coalition of a number of public health and environmental groups, fourteen states and dozens of Native American tribes, launched its challenge of EPA’s mercury rules over two years ago. Today, the Court, in striking down EPA’s actions, found that the Bush Administration’s explanation for delisting power plants “deploys the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting EPA’s desires for the plain text of (the Clean Air Act.)”

Power plants, the largest source of manmade mercury in the country, spew 48 tons of the dangerous neurotoxin into the air each year, while a single gram – 1/70th of a teaspoon – of mercury per year is enough to contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point that fish are unsafe to eat. EPA estimates that as many as 600,000 babies may be born in the United States annually with irreversible brain damage because pregnant mothers ate mercury-contaminated fish. Mercury risks also include delayed developmental milestones, reduced neurological test scores, and cardiovascular disease. Nearly one-third (32 percent) of America’s lakes and nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of our rivers were subject to advisories for mercury contamination in 2003.

Despite the devastating impact these emissions are having on the environmental and human health of the nation and clear mandates under the Clean Air Act, EPA has steadfastly refused to regulate power plant mercury pollution, instead coming up with a non-control plan that allowed the energy giants to continue emitting significant amounts of mercury. “These rules represented what was perhaps the biggest sellout to industry in the history of EPA,” said Waterkeeper Alliance Legal Director and attorney on the case, Scott Edwards. “It’s a real tragedy that we’ve had to spend two years getting this industry-scripted scheme struck down while energy companies continue to poison our children with mercury.”

With EPA’s delisting action declared illegal, the Agency is now obligated to develop “Maximum Achievable Control Technologies” standards for power plant mercury emissions. Several U.S. Department of Energy studies conducted over the past few years have demonstrated that upwards of 90 percent of power plant mercury emissions can be eliminated using affordable and available reduction technologies.

“This is a very positive ruling, but we should not forget that no matter how much this industry reduces mercury emissions, coal will never be clean,” added Waterkeeper Alliance President Steve Fleischli. “From mining to burning to toxic ash, ‘clean coal' is a sham, a dangerous diversion at a time when we must move our national energy strategy to sustainable, renewable energy sources.”

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