Penn. Board Considers Mercury Restrictions

Published October 1, 2005

Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board on August 16 approved a request by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to examine the feasibility of imposing mercury restrictions more stringent than federal standards.

The Democratic and Republican chairs of the state’s House and Senate environment committees say more restrictive standards are unnecessary and would be economically costly. DEP plans to conduct a six-month examination of potential restrictions.

Environmental Mercury Declining

Environmental activist groups claim the federal government’s recently proposed cap-and-trade mercury restrictions will not adequately protect human health and the environment.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the proposed cap-and-trade restrictions will reduce environmental mercury by 70 percent by the year 2018. That will be in addition to the 80 percent reduction in U.S. industrial mercury use already achieved since 1970, including a 38 percent decline in U.S. power plant emissions from 1995 to 1999. Notably, the federal government has never previously regulated mercury emissions.

Nevertheless, activist groups are seeking even more stringent reductions and oppose market-based mechanisms such as cap-and-trade plans.

“The vote to move forward means that we can begin to put in place a plan that will be more protective of public health and the environment,” DEP spokesman Kurt Knaus told the August 17 Greenwire. “If the federal government won’t put in place a plan to protect our citizens, then Pennsylvania will.”

“A state-specific rule to reduce mercury emissions in Pennsylvania will mean significant improvements in our environment and public health,” added Knaus as quoted on August 19 in Pennsylvania’s Oil City Derrick & News Herald. “Reducing the amount of mercury entering the atmosphere in Pennsylvania means limiting how much enters the environment in Pennsylvania.”

Bipartisan Leaders Oppose Plan

The DEP position is counter to the July 27 recommendation of the chairs of the Pennsylvania House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy committees.

“While we agree that mercury is a serious pollutant that needs to be addressed, there is an overriding concern of pursuing individual state action on a pollutant that is a national and even a global problem,” wrote Sen. Raphael Musto (D-Luzerne), Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango), and Rep. William Adolph Jr. (R-Delaware) in an advisory letter to Environmental Quality Board Chairperson Kathleen McGinty.

Because U.S. utilities account for only 1 percent of man-made global mercury emissions, and because most such emissions dissipate into the upper atmosphere and travel across the globe before coming back to Earth, there are “serious questions over whether even U.S. residents–let alone Pennsylvanians–would be the recipients of the benefits of a more stringent, state-specific mercury emission standard,” the committee chairs wrote.

Plan Called Expensive, Ineffective

“Pennsylvania lawmakers of both parties know that compliance with stringent new rules has costs–costs that will be borne by their constituents,” said Amy Ridenour, president of the National Center for Public Policy Research.

However, said Ridenour, “Ideology and political expediency long have trumped economic and scientific logic as priorities with DEP under its current leadership. Pennsylvania power plants, unfortunately, will be placed at a competitive disadvantage with plants in other states.

“The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has tended to disregard the economic costs of environmental regulations,” Ridenour added. “Pennsylvania DEP has instead used the expediency of claiming that the added cost to the economy and to energy prices can be negated simply by forcing businesses to invest in new technologies and offset ‘energy waste.’ If it were that easy, energy companies would already do so in order to enhance their efficiency and profitability.”

“If the Pennsylvania DEP’s examination of mercury pollution results in restrictions that exceed federal rules, it would be a good–that is, bad–example of abuse of delegated authority and of not basing regulations on sound science,” said Kenneth Chilton, director of Lindenwood University’s Institute for Study of Economics and the Environment.

“Mercury emissions from U. S. power plants are 48 tons a year, whereas global emissions, manmade and natural, are 5,000 tons annually,” said Chilton. “Pennsylvania’s contribution to this tiny 1 percent of [total global] mercury pollution is trivial. In other words, the DEP’s show of political correctness would be all pain and no gain for its citizens.”

James Hoare ([email protected]) is managing attorney at the Syracuse, New York office of McGivney, Kluger & Gannon.

For more information …

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