The battle over whether coal-fired power plants are dumping toomany toxins into the environment is flaring up again in Washington,putting Indiana and other coal-heavy states at the center of adebate over smokestack mercury emissions. On Wednesday, a national environmental group released a reportdetailing just how much mercury is released into the Great Lakesregion -- and the harms the heavy metal causes wildlife and people. The Natural Resources Defense Council says Indiana is one of theregion's worst polluters. Its report highlights what the authorssay is a need for Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- states thatdon't have mercury-reduction plans -- to come up with stricterstandards under new federal guidelines. The rules introduced lastyear would prompt many utility companies to put scrubbers onsmokestacks or close older, dirtier power plants outright by 2016. |
Meanwhile, a group of Republican senators led by Sen. Jim Inhofe,R-Okla., wants to roll back the new air-quality standards, sayingthe regulatory costs will kill jobs and cause ratepayers' powerbills to climb. The Senate might vote on the matter within a month. The pending vote in the Senate comes as industry groups call forrelaxed standards. Last month, the Electric Power Research Institute, the research armof the U.S.
energy industry, estimated that by 2035 it would costthe U.S. economy up to $275 billion to meet all U.S. EnvironmentalProtection Agency standards for air and water quality. Relaxing therequirements would save an estimated $100 billion, according toReuters. Last summer, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, atrade association that includes coal companies and utilities,funded a study that concluded new regulatory costs would lead to a13 percent drop in coal-fired generation.
It said electricityprices would increase by double digits for ratepayers in Indianaand more than 20 other states. But some environmental groups say Congress should not stand in theway of controlling mercury emissions. "We consider this a nuclear legislative weapon with a lot ofradioactive spillover," said John Walke, the Natural ResourcesDefense Council's senior attorney and clean-air director. The state's coal-fired power plants released more than 4,000 poundsof mercury into the environment in 2010. Other industrial sourcesproduced 1,000 pounds, according to the Indiana Department ofEnvironmental Management.
As The Indianapolis Star reported last weekend, while other states,such as Minnesota, have taken steps to reduce emissions by as muchas 75 percent by 2025, Indiana's mercury emissions are expected todrop only 14 percent by 2018 under current standards. The Natural Resources Defense Council report says the EPA's newair-quality rules would help reduce the state's mercury emissionsby as much as 86 percent by 2016. But a state spokesman and a trade group executive say the reportmakes Indiana appear worse off than it actually is. Stan Pinegar, president of the Indiana Energy Association, a groupof investor-owned electric utilities, says the report doesn'taccount for the steps Hoosier coal plant operators already havetaken to reduce their toxin output, such as installing emissioncontrols on coal plants.
Plus, he said, emissions from coal plants in the southern part ofthe state don't really drift into the Great Lakes. "Certainly, they're being deposited somewhere," Pinegar said. "I'mnot denying that, but it's a bit of a misnomer." IDEM spokesman Robert Elstro said Indiana also has implemented aportion of a different federal air-quality rule from the onedescribed in the report, so it's not as if emissions from thestate's coal-fired plants are unchecked. The Natural Resources Defense Council acknowledged that the new,tighter air-quality standards will have an upfront cost of $9.6billion but said the benefits in reduced health-care costs,improved fisheries and cleaner-burning fuels will save an estimated$37 billion to $90 billion.
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