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Mercury

Court Strikes Down Clean Air Mercury Rule

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia invalidated a 2005 EPA rule issued in February that would remove power plants from the Clean Air Act’s list of toxic sources – replacing it with a cap and trade regulatory scheme – to be in violation of the act. The Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) was set to go into effect in 2010. Power plants that failed to meet emission targets, under the rule, would have been allowed to buy credits from plants that did, rather than having to install their own mercury emissions controls.CAMR was the first nation-wide control rule. Fourteen states, a number of Native American tribes and environmental organizations filed the suit. EPA is now obligated to develop maximum achievable control technologies, or MACT, standards for power plant mercury emissions. The three-judge panel unanimously agreed with the states that the EPA did not have the authority to exempt the power plants. (Pollution Engineering)

See also: Court Strikes Down Clean Air Interstate Rule

The National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program

EPA announced a national program today that will help cut mercury air emissions by up to 75 tons over the next 15 years. The National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program is designed to remove mercury-containing light switches from scrap vehicles before the vehicles are flattened, shredded, and melted to make new steel. Removing these little switches will lead to big mercury reductions. Although the U.S. automobile industry halted use of mercury-containing light switches in 2002, an estimated 67.5 million switches are currently in use in older vehicles and available for recovery. Each year, the steel industry recycles more than 14 million tons of steel from scrap vehicles, the equivalent to nearly 13.5 million new automobiles, making vehicles the most recycled consumer product and the steel industry one of the largest consumers of recycled materials in the world. Together with existing state mercury switch recovery efforts, this program will significantly reduce mercury air emissions from the furnaces used in steel making -- the fourth leading source in the United States after coal-fired utility boilers, industrial boilers and gold mining. Under the program, automobile dismantlers will remove the mercury-containing light switches from scrap vehicles prior to the vehicles being flattened and then shredded at scrap recycling facilities. The program will also provide a financial incentive for those who remove mercury switches.

Domestic releases and uses of mercury have decreased significantly over the last 25 years. U.S. mercury air emissions have been reduced by 45 percent since 1990, and mercury use in products and processes decreased 83 percent between 1980 and 1997. Recent efforts to further cut mercury emissions have targeted industrial boilers, chlorine production facilities and a Bush Administration regulation that, for the first time, will achieve a 70 percent reduction in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, when fully implemented. EPA now has standards in place limiting mercury air releases from most major known industrial sources in the United States.

The National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program is the result of a two-year collaborative effort  involving EPA, the End of Life Vehicle Solutions Corporation, the American Iron and Steel Institute, the Steel Manufacturers Association, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the Automotive Recyclers Association, Environmental Defense, the Ecology Center (Ann Arbor), and representatives of the Environmental Council of the States. More information about the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program and additional mercury reduction efforts: http://www.epa.gov/mercury/switch.htm

EPA Retains First-Ever Reductions of Mercury from Power Plants

May 31, 2006 - -The Clean Air Mercury Rule, established under the Bush Administration, is the first-ever rule to regulate mercury emissions from power plants. Finalized in March 2005 and reaffirmed today, it will achieve an approximately 70 percent reduction in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants when fully implemented. The Clean Air Mercury Rule creates a market-based cap-and-trade program that will permanently cap utility mercury emissions.  The first phase of the rule sets a cap of 38 tons and in combination with the Clean Air Interstate Rule will reduce emissions from 48 tons to 31 tons beginning in 2010. Emissions will continue to decline thereafter until they are reduced to the second phase cap of 15 tons when the program is fully implemented. The mandatory declining caps, coupled with significant penalties for noncompliance, will ensure that mercury reduction requirements are achieved and sustained in a cost-effective manner. In response to petitions for reconsideration, EPA reaffirmed its approach for regulating mercury emissions from power plants and made technical changes and clarifications to the Clean Air Mercury Rule.

Today's action responds to petitioners' requests for changes to certain aspects of two mercury-related actions:

(1) EPA's decision that it is neither necessary nor appropriate to regulate power plant mercury emissions under section 112 of the Clean Air Act (called the 112 Revision Rule) and

(2) the cap-and-trade Clean Air Mercury Rule. After carefully considering the petitions and the information that was submitted during the public comment period, EPA has determined that its original determination as presented in the final Section 112 Revision Rule was correct and is reaffirming the March 29, 2005 action. With regard to Clean Air Mercury Rule, EPA is making two technical changes to the rule and finalizing language reaffirming that municipal waste combustors are not covered under this rule, but under a separate rule for air toxics.

The Bush Administration has put in place a series of clean air regulations that will help most of the country attain new, stringent air quality standards. This rule, combined with other clean air regulations such as the Clean Air Interstate Rule and the Clean Air Nonroad Diesel Rule will lead to significant benefits for our environment, improve public health and promote development of new technologies.

Contact: John Millett, (202) 564-4355 / millett.john@epa.gov

More information on the Clean Air Mercury Rule and the petitions for reconsideration:  http://www.epa.gov/air/mercuryrule/rule.htm

Final Clean Air Mercury Rule

March 15, 2005 -- The Bush administration issued a final Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) to control mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. The new EPA rule is intended to cut emissions to 38 tons, a 21 percent reduction from 1999 levels(48 tons), in 2010 and to 15 tons, or about a 69 percent reduction, in 2018. Under the rule, some utilities will be able to buy allowances rather than cleaning up emissions. This is the first time mercury from power plants is being regulated and the United States is the first country in the world to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Unfortunately, the rule will lead to litigation instead of retrofits. This uncertainty will prevent utilities from aggressively examining and installing the new scrubber technology needed to remove mercury from coal-fired power plant emissions. The new regulation will be litigated by traditional environmental groups because they want a command and control program that requires special mercury scrubbers on every power plant, whereas the CAMR provides a cap and trade program that allows utilities to buy and sell allowances to achieve targeted emission reductions.

States Sue Over Mercury Rule

May 18, 2005 - - A coalition of 11 states filed suit against the U.S. EPA in federal court charging that the agency's recently issued mercury emissions rules, which establish a "cap and trade" system whereby coal-fired power plants can trade pollution credits, pose an unacceptable threat to public health.

Litigants contend that EPA did not go far enough with its March 2005 regulations to protect public health. Mercury contaminates fish and water and has been linked to neurological disorders in young children. The EPA regulations issued in March ordered U.S. utilities to cut their emissions of mercury by 70 percent by 2018 through a cap-and-trade system.

New Jersey and 10 other states filed a federal lawsuit in Washington, D.C., saying the cap-and-trade rules will lead to “hot spots” with concentrated mercury levels near power plants. That’s because polluting utilities will be able to buy rights to emit the toxin rather than reduce levels outright. The other states in the lawsuit are California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Proponents of the EPA rule contend that utility emissions account for only a small portion of the mercury in U.S. waters, and that pollution from municipal and medical waste incinerators will keep levels high even when the rule is fully implemented. Proponents believe the new cap and trade mercury regulation will require a 70 percent reduction in mercury emissions in a relatively short time frame, and will do so in a way that minimizes costs to consumers. Opponents contend that EPA issued pollution regulations requiring shallower cuts over a longer period of time.  The nation’s 1,100 coal-burning power plants emit about 48 tons of mercury each year, the largest unregulated U.S. source.

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Mercury can be found in home thermometers and school science labs, but enters humans primarily through the consumption of fish that have bioaccumulated mercury deposited from the atmosphere. A significant portion of this mercury comes from power plants. It also comes from incinerators.. Much airborne mercury deposited in the United States also originates abroad, and most of the mercury-laden fish consumed by Americans as fish sticks or fish fillets is imported. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin.

The CAMR is intended to work in tandem with an E.P.A. Clean Air Interstate Rule published this month, which controls soot and ground-level ozone.

From 1990 to 1999, total airborne emissions of mercury in the United States dropped from 209.6 tons to 113.2 tons, roughly 5 percent of worldwide manmade emissions. Mercury emissions from power plants are responsible for about 48 of the 113 tons. Foty-four states have issued advisories calling for limited consumption of fish from mercury-contaminated streams. Controlling fish consumption of certain types of fish, particularly for pregnant women and children, is the only realistic short term approach for protecting oneself against mercury contamination.

The new rule, like the Clean Air Interstate rule that it complements, will set up a cap-and-trade system of negotiable pollution allowances that is administered by the states, each of which has its own mandated cap on emissions and each of which can develop its own system of distributing allowances, subject to the approval of the environmental agency. Authority and responsibility for meeting these standards is given to the states, whose annual caps between 2010 and 2017 range from a high of 4.7 tons in Texas to lows of zero emissions in Idaho and Vermont.

Some states, like Connecticut, already regulate power plant emissions of mercury. The new federal rule will not impede their ability to impose stricter controls than those mandated by the E.P.A.