Utilities, environmentalists dispute timing of mercury standards

By SAODAT ASANOVA-TAYLOR

Capital News Service

LANSING – Environmental protection advocates are urging legislators to support the federal mercury and air toxic standards in the Clean Air Act, but the electric utility industry say, that would create a huge burden.

The standards proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would require coal-and oil-fired electric power plants to reduce mercury and other emissions by more than 90 percent.

Congressional opponents of the proposal say the standards are too costly and would force the premature closing of power plants, eliminate hundreds of jobs and threaten the supply of electricity. Continue reading

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More songbirds found with high mercury levels

By SAM INGLOT

Capital News Service

LASNING — Scientists are finding more Great Lakes birds with high levels of mercury in them.

A recent report by the Biodiversity Research Institute says the increased levels are found particularly in songbirds that rely on insects for food.

Aquatic birds still face the greatest risk for mercury exposure, said Joe Kaplan, a researcher with Common Coast Research & Conservation, a nonprofit loon research group based in Hancock.

Two factors impact how mercury affects a bird, he said: the amount of mercury it’s exposed to and the bird’s sensitivity to the metal. Continue reading

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Power plant near Manistee prepares for new mercury rules

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By JORDAN TRAVIS
Capital News Service

LANSING — New state mercury regulations that take effect in 2015 will bring changes at the T.E.S. Filer City power station near Manistee.

According to Teresa Cooper of the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), if the plant doesn’t reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent of its 1999 baseline levels, it will have three ways to meet the new requirements.

It can reduce emissions to about an ounce per gigawatt-hour of electricity, which is enough to power one million 100-watt light bulbs for an hour, reduce its sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions or find ways to reduce mercury emissions in the community.

The plant could qualify for the final option only if it emits less than 9 pounds of mercury per year.
Dan Bishop, the public information officer for CMS Energy in Jackson, said the company is still figuring out how to comply with the new regulations. CMS Energy owns the power plant in Filer City.

“We will be taking a good hard look at the 90 percent reduction rule,” he said.
CMS will spend $1.6 billion on technology at its plants to reduce emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxides, which also reduces mercury emissions, he said.

In 2007, the plant released 2.03 pounds of mercury into the air, according to the Michigan Toxic Chemical Release Inventory, a DEQ database of pollutants.

Mercury is a naturally occurring heavy metal. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, airborne mercury, some of it from burning coal, settles on the ground and in bodies of water. It can then be absorbed by animals like fish.

People who eat the contaminated fish risk health damage. Mercury is especially harmful to a child’s developing nervous system.

According to Dennis McGeen of the DEQ’s Air Quality Division, the plant did not submit data for 1999. Facilities in the state are not required to submit data on mercury emissions, he said, and do so voluntarily.

Cooper explained that baseline levels were established by testing the mercury levels of coal burned by each power plant over the course of a year. Plants have the option of establishing a new level, she said, since 1999 levels may be out of date.

Bob McCann, press secretary for the DEQ, said the agency “would be working with all existing coal power plants in the state to get them into compliance.”

He said he doesn’t expect any problems, and that the department didn’t want to make rules that utilities can’t meet.

The federal government is likely to enact mercury rules similar to those of Michigan’s, he said, and if it does, the state law will no longer be in effect.

He and Bishop agreed on the need for nationwide mercury regulations. Both said that would “even the playing field” without different rules in every state.

© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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