Making A Difference: Mercury Pollution Reduction Standards Protect Children’s Health and the Great Lakes
Sunday, January 1, 2012
As we begin a new year, let’s recognize a terrific long-delayed success finalized at the end of 2011.
On December 21st, the US EPA announced the first-ever national standards to reduce mercury, arsenic, cadmium and other toxic air pollutants from coal plants by requiring installation of modern pollution control equipment. These standards make good economic and environmental sense. They were required by the Clean Air Act more than 20 years ago and level the playing field for Illinois energy companies that have already invested in mercury pollution control technologies. The national investments will create jobs, achieve cleaner air and water, drive technological innovations and protect children’s health.
Coal plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the Great Lakes. Public health officials have issued “mercury advisories” for almost every river, lake and stream in the Great Lakes states. Sad, isn’t it? It’s not safe to eat the fish we catch.
Mercury is a neurotoxin that, when ingested by pregnant women, enters the bloodstream, crosses the placental barrier and impairs fetal brain development, thereby causing mental and physical harms. Installing widely available pollution control technologies can reduce more than 90 percent of the mercury pollution that is harming both children’s health and our environment.
In 2006, the Illinois Pollution Control Board adopted mercury pollution standards, which required all coal plants to install technologies to reduce mercury pollution by 90% or more by 2009 and 2013. Some coal plant owners made the same overblown arguments about reliability threats and costs that we’re hearing today at the Federal level. What happened in Illinois? The coal plants mostly complied, mercury pollution dropped significantly, the lights stayed on, and utility rates didn’t go up from that. Our children’s health is better protected.
Illinois is demonstrating that the federal mercury standards are achievable, but some out-of-state coal plant owners and their Congressional allies are already moving to weaken the new standards.
Both Sen. Dick Durbin and Sen. Mark Kirk have long expressed their support for strong mercury pollution reduction standards. Senator Kirk wrote in 2003: “We are at risk and our children are at greater risk if we do nothing to reduce mercury pollution. This may become a defining issue of our decade, and we have the chance to make a real difference for our environmental future.”
Illinois coal plant owners are stepping up to clean up mercury, and they shouldn’t be placed at a competitive disadvantage by others who don’t and continue their mercury pollution.
We urge Senator Durbin, Senator Kirk and Illinois’ Congressional Representatives to strongly oppose those who would take the country backwards. Let’s move forward with these common-sense national mercury pollution reduction standards to protect children’s health and our Great Lakes and rivers for all.
Best wishes to ELPC’s valued friends, colleagues and supporters for a successful 2012,