Illinois Governor Ignores Science, Pushes Mercury Cuts

Published April 1, 2006

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) has unveiled plans to force electricity producers to cut mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants in the state by 90 percent by June 2009. The Illinois rules, which Blagojevich announced on January 5, would be more stringent than a federal mandate that power plants cut emissions by 70 percent by 2018.

The Illinois rules prohibit power plants from purchasing or trading emissions allowances. Accordingly, each power plant operator will have to reduce emissions by an average of 90 percent across its entire fleet, even if it would be more economical and efficient for some operators to cut emissions by more than 90 percent and sell the resulting emission credits to other operators.

Moreover, Blagojevich’s proposal would require power plant operators to reduce emissions from each individual plant by 75 percent by June 2009 and by 90 percent by December 2012.

“Mercury emissions hurt the environment and can cause serious physical harm to children,” said Blagojevich in a news release. “The new federal mercury regulations don’t go far enough in protecting the public from what we know are very dangerous emissions. That’s why we are proposing much stronger regulations here in Illinois–to make sure people can safely enjoy our air and water, and the fish from our rivers and lakes.”

Health Won’t Improve

The Blagojevich release quoted several environmental activists praising the new rules but failed to quote any scientists who have studied mercury emissions and their impact on human health.

“Cutting power plant mercury emissions will not result in any change in the [levels of] biologically active methylmercury that is accumulated in fish in the world’s oceans or even local great lakes,” said Willie Soon, chief science researcher at the Center for Science and Public Policy.

“There will be no change in the health of any citizens in Illinois,” Soon added.

Newspaper, Hoax Inspired Law

Blagojevich said his decision was based on a series of articles printed by the Chicago Tribune. “The Tribune reporters’ ‘science’ was buttressed by references to proven flawed studies on male heart attack risks, and an Internet hoax about ‘a teaspoon’ of mercury ‘contaminating’ a small lake [being mentioned in] a nonexistent ‘government study’,” said Bob Ferguson, executive director of the Center for Science and Public Policy, in a January statement issued by The Heartland Institute.

“Such irresponsible reporting may put at serious health risk the very populations for whom they claim concern–pregnant women and fetuses–by falsely alarming them away from nutrition shown to decrease risks for premature birth, postpartum depression, and suicidal ideation and [to] increase fetal benefits of visual acuity, strong brain development, and enhanced IQ,” Ferguson added.

“To think there is going to be any kind of environmental impact by enforcing a rule like this is absolutely ludicrous,” said Phillip Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association. U.S. power plant emissions account for less than 1 percent of global environmental mercury, Gonet noted. “This rule will have absolutely no impact on the environment at all. This is a case of using an anvil to kill a fly,” Gonet told the Southern Illinoisan for a January 13 story.

“What really disappoints me is that if you eliminate all the mercury produced by all the coal-burning power plants in the entire nation, you would still have 99 percent of the mercury out there,” said Gonet. “Why hurt Illinois power plants by trying to eliminate a small amount of mercury in Illinois when 99 percent is still going to be there?”

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

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