Several States Adopting Mercury Rules Tougher Than Federal Standard

Twenty-two states are pursuing restrictions on mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants that are more stringent than the Bush administration's approach.

Nov. 17 marked the date when states were required under the Clean Air Mercury Rule to submit plans to EPA for how they plan to comply with the federal rule. States have the option of setting tight plant-specific limits on coal plant emissions or adopting the federal plan which would allow plants to buy emission credits instead of reducing mercury pollution.

According to the National Association of Clean Air Agencies (NACAA), the 22 states are bucking the federal rule in three ways: they are calling for more stringent regulations, accelerated compliance deadlines or restricted interstate trading of mercury. NACAA stated that 24 state programs are largely consistent with the federal model, and the remainder are uncertain or are not required to participate.

On March 15, 2005, EPA issued the federal rule to address mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. According to the agency, the Clean Air Mercury Rule will build on EPA's Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) to significantly reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants -- the largest remaining sources of mercury emissions in the country. When fully implemented, these rules will reduce utility emissions of mercury from 48 tons a year to 15 tons, a reduction of nearly 70 percent, the agency stated.

The Clean Air Mercury Rule establishes "standards of performance" limiting mercury emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants and creates a market-based cap-and-trade program.

On Nov. 14, the American Medical Association (AMA) announced its opposition to the federal cap and trade program, calling on the federal government to take a stronger role in reducing mercury emissions from power plants.

"More must be done to address the global public health threat of mercury emissions," said AMA Board Member Ardis Hoven, M.D. "As physicians, we call on the U.S. government to take a greater leadership role to reduce harmful mercury emissions. We also encourage manufacturers to reduce mercury use wherever possible, to take advantage of available and emerging technology to reduce mercury emissions, and to better track mercury's current use."

NACAA's table of state mercury programs for utilities can be accessed in PDF format at http://www.4cleanair.org/Documents/StateTable.pdf.

More information on the Clean Air Mercury Rule can be found at http://www.epa.gov/air/mercuryrule/index.htm.

This article originally appeared in the 11/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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