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Environmentalists want tougher mercury rules

John McCarthy - APJuly 24, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio - A new Ohio rule reflecting changes in the federal regulation of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants should go further than the Bush administration requires, activists said Monday.

The rule from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency must be in place by year's end. It would require coal plants to reduce mercury emissions by 86 percent by 2018, reflecting the target set by the U.S. EPA.

That's not enough, said Jack Shaner, a lobbyist with the Ohio Environmental Council. Ohio coal emits more mercury and other pollutants than coal from other states and should have more stringent regulation, Shaner said.

Mercury from smokestacks can settle in waterways and can get into fish. Those who eat fish contaminated with mercury are at risk for cerebral palsy, seizures and other illnesses, said Dr. Ted Schettler, science director for the Science and Environmental Health Network.

"It's easily absorbed from intestinal tract and into the bloodstream. In pregnant women, it easily crosses the placenta and easily enters the brain of the fetus," Schettler said.

The state should reduce mercury emissions by at least 90 percent, as five other states have done, Shaner said. The Ohio EPA originally proposed a 90 percent reduction, but Gov. Bob Taft's administration decided to go with the lower rate, EPA Director Joe Koncelik said.

Taft consulted with the state development department and had to consider all Ohio industries, including manufacturing, in making his decision, spokesman Mark Rickel said.

"There is no analysis to demonstrate that the (greater) reduction would help Ohio's environment greatly. But in the short run, it could have a negative impact on our competitiveness," Rickel said.

Taft gave in to pressure from the coal and electric utility industries to allow power plants to continue to use Ohio coal, Shaner said.

"It seems he's got to accommodate everyone but the public health," Shaner said.

The decision to go with the lower reduction figure is crucial to the future of Ohio coal, said Mike Carey, president of the Ohio Coal Association, a trade group.

"We need to have a fair, level market. We're already hurt by our transportation costs and sulfur costs," he said.

In 2010, Ohio power plants that meet the 66 percent reduction target for that year can begin selling credits for the percentage by which they beat that figure to other plants that don't meet the standard. The latter can use the credits instead of installing controls.

Mercury emissions should not be added to the list of pollutants allowed in the "cap-and-trade" practice because they are too toxic and can settle in concentrated amounts, or "hot spots," Shaner said.

The program has worked in the trading of credits for nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, whose pollution is measured in tons, and should work for mercury, whose emissions are measured in ounces, Koncelik said.

"Cap-and-trade can work and it works very well," said Koncelik, citing reductions in acid rain. "It has proved to be hugely successful."

The Ohio EPA has taken other steps to reduce mercury emissions, such as putting controls in steel mills, removing switches from cars before they are junked and collecting medical thermometers that contain mercury, Koncelik said.

ON THE NET Ohio Environmental Protection Agency: Ohio Environmental Council: Science and Environmental Health Network: Ohio Coal Association:

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