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E-M:/ Press Release: New Report Reveals 'Clear Skies' Mercury Loophole

For immediate release:  April 6, 2005

Contact: Kate Madigan: (517) 664-2600


New Report Finds ‘Clear Skies’ Bill Would Exempt

Many Power Plants from Mercury Regulations

~ PIRGIM Calls for Strong Mercury Rules in Michigan ~


Lansing, Michigan—As the Bush administration renews its call for Congress to pass the stalled “Clear Skies” bill, a new PIRGIM (Public Interest Research Group in Michigan) report finds that a loophole in the fine print of the bill could exempt 39 percent of the nation’s coal-fired power plant units from regulation, allowing them to emit toxic mercury indefinitely. 


In Michigan, the loophole could exempt 30 units, 51 percent of Michigan’s coal-fired power plant units, from regulation.  The exempt units collectively emit 282 pounds of mercury into the air each year.


“Mercury is poisonous in very small amounts.  This loophole is serious business for the millions of Michiganders who eat fish,” said PIRGIM Environmental Advocate Kate Madigan.


The bill’s (S.131) mercury loophole, tucked in the definition of an “affected unit,” would exclude from regulation power plant units that emit 30 pounds (13,620 grams) or less of mercury per year, including units that are part of a multi-unit power plant that as a whole emits more than 30 pounds of mercury per year.  EPA has performed no analyses to date on the effects of this loophole on public health or the environment.


The ‘Clear Skies’ loophole underscores the importance of PIRGIM’s efforts to make sure Governor Granholm abides by her pledge to reduce power plant mercury pollution.  The Governor committed to phasing-out mercury pollution during her 2002 campaign for governor and reiterated her commitment to reducing power plant mercury pollution by 90 percent after much publicity on the issue last summer.


“It’s clear that the Bush administration would rather jeopardize public health with outdated power plants than move our country forward with modern technology,” said Madigan.  “It remains to be seen whether our Governor – who unlike President Bush, actually promised to do the right thing – will follow through and adequately reduce mercury pollution in order to protect the health of Michigan families.”


PIRGIM supports efforts to reduce mercury pollution from Michigan’s coal-fired power plants by 90 percent by 2010.  For those plants that have to clean up, the “Clear Skies” bill gives the plants until 2018 before requiring specific action to reduce their mercury pollution by repealing the Clean Air Act’s requirement that every power plant reduce its mercury emissions to the maximum extent by 2008.  EPA acknowledged in a 2001 presentation to the electric utilities’ trade association that compliance with existing law would reduce mercury emissions by about 90 percent.


“In Michigan, we can and should protect public health by reducing mercury pollution by 90 percent,” added Madigan.  “The technology is available today and studies show that the costs are minimal, costing ratepayers an average of 69 cents per month on electricity bills. Installing modern energy technologies would also bolster Michigan’s economy and create an influx of jobs.”


More than a year and a half ago, Governor Granholm created a mercury work group to make recommendations for reducing power plant mercury pollution.  However, the group – which is made up mostly of electric utilities like Detroit Edison – has yet to come forth with its recommendations. 


“Every day children are born in Michigan with learning disabilities as a result of mercury pollution.  And every day we wait for the Governor to take action,” concluded Madigan.  “We’re at the point where waiting for industry-approved recommendations is nothing more than a stalling tactic by the Governor.”


Exposure to low-levels of mercury can cause learning disabilities, developmental delays, lowered IQ, and attention deficits in children, and heart attacks and other problems in adults.  EPA scientists estimate that one in six women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her body to put her child at risk, should she become pregnant. 


Power plants are the single largest source of U.S. mercury emissions.  About one-third of the mercury deposited in the U.S. comes from U.S. power plants, according to EPA data, and mercury deposition can be much higher near individual power plants.  Michigan has posted health warnings for mercury covering every inland lake.  These advisories urge people to limit their fish consumption.


Under court-appointed deadline, EPA finalized a weak mercury rule in Mid March. But the rule discarded Clean Air Act requirements that it regulate mercury according to the maximum achievable control technologies (MACT) and instead issued a controversial cap and trade approach. Already 9 states have challenged the rule in court, and are likely to prevail, meaning the EPA would have to go back to the drawing board and write a rule that complies with the Clean Air Act. The “Clear Skies” bill would repeal the Clean Air Act’s strong protections. The Senate committee rejected the bill on a 9-9 vote on March 9, but that same afternoon President Bush called on Congress to pass the bill and a new hearing has been scheduled.


To download the full report, visit our website at www.pirgim.org


PIRGIM is a nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest advocacy organization