National Wildlife Federation Report Shows Low Cost of Mercury Cleanup
AUGUSTA, MAINE – Installing technology at coal-burning power plants to deeply reduce mercury emissions would cost the average Maine household an additional four cents per month on their electric bills, according to a report by the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
“This report shows that for an extra four cents a month on our electric bills we can cut mercury pollution from power plants by 90%,” says Matt Prindiville of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “The technology is available and the cost is reasonable. Now, we’re calling on federal leaders to protect our families from mercury as required by law.”
NWF’s report concludes that significant reductions in mercury pollution are both feasible and affordable today. In Getting the Job Done, NWF calculated what it would cost for coal-fired power plants to install technology to control mercury emissions by 90 percent, and found that nationally household electricity bills would increase less than 3 %. Here in Maine, mercury clean up would add about four cents to residential electricity bills per month.
“Even in states that rely heavily on coal for electricity generation, we’ve demonstrated that we can significantly reduce mercury emissions for about the cost of a cup of coffee a month. In places like Maine, we’re only talking about the cost of a few pieces of penny candy.” says Catherine Bowes, NWF’s northeast mercury program manager.
“This report also shows that the closer you are to coal burning plants the more mercury you are likely to receive – 50% falls within 500 miles,” says Prindiville. “To cut mercury pollution in Maine, the two coal plants just across the border in New Hampshire need to follow the example set in other New England states and clean up today.”
“These dirty old power plants get an unfair advantage – they’ve been let off the hook at the expense of our children’s health, blocking clean, renewable energy sources, like wind and solar, which don’t cause mounting doctor’s bills or poison future generations, says Prindiville. “Power plant mercury pollution is a problem we do not need to hand down to our children.”
Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Getting the Job Done analyzed the cost of reducing mercury emissions from power plants in five states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, and North Dakota) that generate from 40 to 95 percent of their electricity from coal. Regardless of coal burned, NWF found that installing commercially available mercury controls could be accomplished for a reasonable cost. NWF’s findings are consistent with nationwide cost estimates that have been completed by the U.S. Department of Energy, EPA, and the Institute for Clean Air Companies.
Getting the Job Done comes at a time when the EPA is preparing to finalize a regulation for mercury emissions from power plants. Rather than set strict limits for each plant, as required by the current Clean Air Act, the EPA proposed a cap and trade program that would allow power plants to meet that cap by either reducing their emissions or buying “pollution credits” from cleaner companies. While EPA’s proposed cap represents a 70 percent reduction from today’s levels, its emissions trading program would delay these reductions until at least 2025. In contrast, current law requires EPA to set a technically feasible standard for every power plant, a standard that would likely reduce mercury emissions by up to 90 percent by the end of this decade.
“The current EPA plan is too little too late,” says Catherine Bowes of NWF. “Mercury contamination poses great risk to people and wildlife here in the northeast and nationwide, and we have an affordable solution to the problem. This report makes a compelling case for why we do not need 15 more years before we take this problem seriously.”
Mercury is a dangerous toxin that interferes with the development and function of the central nervous system, as well as the cardiovascular and reproductive systems. Even at low levels mercury can cause subtle but permanent harm to the human brain and reproductive harm in wildlife. Forty-five states and territories, including Maine, have issued advisories warning people to limit their consumption of certain fish caught in local lakes, streams, and coastal waters due to mercury contamination. The nation’s 430 coal-burning power plants are the largest unregulated source of mercury pollution in the United States. Mercury emissions deposit with rain and snow on our nation’s waters, where it makes its way into fish, posing a risk to people and wildlife that eat the fish.