MAC: Mines and Communities

The US Environmental Protection Agency is still pushing methods, that are less effective than enforc

Published by MAC on 2004-12-01

The US Environmental Protection Agency is still pushing methods, that are less effective than enforcement of the existing Clean Air Act.

EPA Releases Public Comments on Limiting Mercury Emissions

December 1, 2004

Environmental News Service (ENS)

WASHINGTON, DC, - More than 680,000 public comments on how best to reduce mercury emissions from power plants received by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were released Tuesday for further public comment.

Currently, nationwide mercury emissions from coal fired power plants are about 48 tons per year. The mercury emitted into the air falls upon waterways where it is absorbed by fish. Consumption of contaminated fish is harmful to children as well as to pregnant women and their fetuses.

According to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, "Mercury's harmful effects that may be passed from the mother to the fetus include brain damage, mental retardation, incoordination, blindness, seizures, and inability to speak. Children poisoned by mercury may develop problems of their nervous and digestive systems, and kidney damage."

In December 2003, the EPA proposed two alternatives for controlling mercury emitted into the air by coal fired power plants. One approach would require power plants to install controls known as "maximum achievable control technology" under the Clean Air Act. If implemented, this proposal would reduce nationwide mercury by 14 tons or about 30 percent by early 2008.

A second approach would create a market based "cap and trade" program that, if implemented, would reduce nationwide power plant emissions of mercury in two phases. Beginning in 2010, the first phase would reduce power plant mercury emissions by taking advantage of what the EPA calls "co-benefit" controls - mercury reductions achieved by reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions under the Clean Air Interstate Rule.

In 2018, the second phase of the mercury program sets a cap of 15 tons. When fully implemented, mercury emissions would be reduced by 33 tons - nearly 70 percent of current levels.

Many environmental groups have observed that by simply enforcing the Clean Air Act as written, mercury emissions would be reduced more quickly than by implementing either of these alternatives.

The EPA received over 680,000 letters, emails and postcards, including about 5,000 unique messages, commenting on the Proposed Clean Air Mercury Rule and the Supplemental Clean Air Mercury Rule by the time the public comment period ended on June 29, 2004.

The EPA also received comments concerning the forms or "species" of mercury present in coal fired power plant emissions. The degree of mercury emissions control depends on the form of mercury at issue.

The three species of mercury in the emissions gases of coal fired power plants consist of elemental, ionic or oxidized, and particulate. The agency is seeking additional input on the forms of mercury emitted by coal fired power plants.

Release of these public comments is part of the EPA process toward delivering a final mercury rule by March 15, 2005. EPA will take comment on this action for 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

For more information on this Notice of Data Availability, visit:

On the Clean Air Mercury Rule, visit:

For the Clean Air Interstate Rule, visit:

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