WASHINGTON - September 8 - As the Senate prepares to vote on whether to overturn a Bush administration rule on power plant mercury emissions, a new U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) report, “Made in the U.S.A.,” identifies the companies, places, and facilities with the most power plant mercury emissions and finds that the three worst mercury polluters—American Electric Power, Southern Company, and Reliant Energy—were responsible for nearly one quarter of the nation’s total mercury emissions from power plants. AEP’s power plants pumped nearly 9,000 pounds of mercury into our environment in 2003.
“The administration’s mercury rule recklessly exposes another generation of children to high levels of mercury pollution,” said U.S. PIRG Clean Air Advocate Supryia Ray. “We commend Senators Leahy, Collins, Snowe, and Jeffords for taking action to reduce mercury pollution in this decade, instead of decades from now.”
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can affect the brain, heart, and immune system. Developing fetuses and children are especially at risk; even low-level exposure to mercury can cause learning disabilities, developmental delays, lowered IQ, and problems with attention and memory. EPA scientists estimate that one in six women has enough mercury in her body to put her child at risk should she become pregnant. Mercury exposure also is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks in adults.
Power plants are the largest industrial source of U.S. mercury emissions. EPA data indicate that about 30% of mercury deposition in the continental U.S. comes from U.S. power plants, and deposition can be much higher near individual plants. Mercury pollution is so pervasive that 45 states have posted mercury-related fish consumption advisories, half of the states for every lake or river. Advisories warn people to avoid or limit their consumption of certain types of fish.
“Made in the U.S.A.” uses 2003 data from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, the most recent available, to rank power plant mercury emissions by state, county, zip code, facility, and company. The report shows that most of the mercury pollution from U.S. power plants comes from comparatively few places and facilities. Key findings include:
- The most polluting 15 companies emitted 54% of total U.S. power plant mercury emissions. Three companies—American Electric Power, Southern Company, and Reliant Energy—emitted 22% of total U.S. power plant mercury emissions.
- Power plants in the U.S. collectively emitted more than 90,000 pounds of mercury into the air in 2003. The 10 states with the most power plant mercury emissions accounted for 56% of total U.S. power plant mercury emissions. Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Alabama topped the list.
- Counties with the highest power plant mercury emissions were concentrated in states in the Gulf Coast, Midwest, and Mid-Atlantic regions, with more than half of the top 50 counties in just seven states: Alabama, Florida, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia.
- The most polluting 100 facilities emitted 64% of total U.S. power plant mercury emissions. These facilities were concentrated in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and West Virginia.
Under the Clean Air Act, sources of hazardous air pollutants, including mercury, are required to install pollution control technology to reduce these toxic emissions by the maximum achievable amount. EPA acknowledged in 2001 that compliance with the law would require reducing power plant mercury emissions by about 90 percent.
In March 2005, however, the Bush administration issued regulations that allow power plants to avoid the Clean Air Act’s maximum achievable control technology (MACT) requirement. One of these rules, the “delisting rule,” removed power plants from the list of sources subject to MACT standards. This paved the way for a second, industry-favored “cap-and-trade rule” that allows power plants to buy and trade the right to pollute and delays mercury reductions for an additional 10-20 years.
“The Bush administration’s rule treats mercury from its largest industrial source—power plants—as if it weren’t toxic,” Ray said. “That defies both law and logic at our children’s expense.”
At least 16 states have challenged one or both of the rules in court or have petitioned EPA for reconsideration of the delisting rule. In addition, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), and James Jeffords (I-VT), have cosponsored a bipartisan joint resolution to overturn the delisting rule under the Congressional Review Act, a law that enables Congress to disapprove of federal agency rules using special, expedited procedures. If enacted, a disapproval resolution voids the rule, meaning it has no effect. A vote is expected this week or early next week.
“The Bush administration’s mercury rule is unprecedented and irresponsible,” Ray said. “Congress should act now to nullify the rule, thereby requiring EPA to cut mercury pollution from power plants by 2009 and restoring integrity to the rulemaking process.”