> Va. groups press for toughened state regulations
> Daniel Cusick, Greenwire Southeast reporter
> Citing worsening problems with mercury contamination in Virginia
> a coalition of environmental groups is pressing the state's Department
> of Environmental Quality to adopt tougher regulations for mercury
> emissions than those implemented earlier this year by U.S. EPA.
> In an Aug. 10 letter
to the Virginia DEQ, four state-based advocacy groups and the National
> Parks Conservation Association charge that EPA's mercury rule,
> promulgated in March, is "an ineffective and lax cap-and-trade program
> that fails to recognize mercury as an air toxic that cannot be
> regulated in the same manner as conventional pollutants."
> The state groups filing the petition are the Charlottesville-based
> Southern Environmental Law Center, the Piedmont Environmental Council,
> the Virginia League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club's
> Virginia state chapter. NPCA has lobbied for stricter limits on
> mercury as air pollution continues to threaten stream health in places like
> Shenandoah National Park.
> Cap-and-trade emissions reduction has been a hallmark of the Bush
> administration's air pollution strategy, and it forms the foundation
> of both the mercury rule and the Clean Air Interstate Act (CAIR) that
> targets a variety of other pollutants emitted from Eastern industrial
> The federal mercury rule, which has been challenged by 15 states and
> numerous environmental groups, would mandate an almost 70 percent
> reduction in mercury emissions over the next two decades, from 48 tons
> annually to 15 tons annually. But critics of the rule's phased
> implementation and its cap-and-trade provisions will allow some
> facilities to continue emitting large amounts of mercury by
> concentrating reductions in certain areas.
> So-called mercury "hot spots" -- areas where utilities opt not to
> invest in mercury controls -- could become a problem in states like Virginia
> and the rest of the South, where coal-fired power generation is
> dominant and environmental conditions are ideal for formation of the toxic form
> of mercury, called methylmercury. "Unfortunately, the Southeast's
> meteorology and unique biogeochemistry of wetlands and blackwater
> rivers favor methylmercury formation," the environmental groups assert a
> letter to Mary Major, program manager for the state DEQ's Office of Air
> Regulatory Development.
> Scientists have for years observed high methylmercury concentrations
> in fish taken from lowland rivers that are tidal and high in organic
> matter and bacteria that help convert elemental mercury into its toxic
> organic form.
> "As DEQ is well aware, methylmercury contamination has reached such
> high levels in many Virginia waters that marine and freshwater fish tissue
> samples routinely violate aquatic life and human health criteria," the
> letter from the groups states.
> Utilities favor federal regulation
> While Virginia regulators have responded to such findings with more
> fish consumption advisories, environmentalists insist it should do more.
> "The answer is not to keep adding rivers we can't fish and fish we can't
> eat to the list, but to cut mercury pollution so fish will have a chance
> to recover," said Caleb Jaffe, an attorney with SELC, in a statement.
> Rather than embrace the EPA's strategy, Jaffe and others say Virginia
> should act to require across-the-board emissions reductions from all
> coal-fired power plants as well as steel recyclers and coke smelters.
> Coal-burning electric power plants account for the largest industrial
> emission sources in the country, both in size and in annual tons of
> pollution released. Coal-fired electricity is especially dominant in
> the Southeast, where Appalachian coal fires dozens of plants in the
> mid-Atlantic and Gulf States.
> In Virginia, 38 percent of all electric power capacity is coal-fired,
> according to the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at
> Virginia Tech University, while 90 percent of the state's power is
> derived from either coal or nuclear generation. The state's two
> dominant coal-fired utilities, Dominion Virginia Power and American Electric
> Power Co., are subject to CAIR and expect to ratchet down mercury
> emissions under EPA's new rule but also through "co-benefits" derived
> from CAIR requirements.
> John Shepelwich, a spokesman for AEP's Virginia subsidiary,
> Appalachian Power, said that because AEP owns coal-fired plants in several states,
> the utility prefers the broader federal approach to state-level
> regulation. "It's a much easier, efficient and economical way to deal
> with the issue," he said.
> Dominion Virginia Power would be a much larger target under a
> state-based mercury rule, with eight coal-fired facilities scattered
> throughout the state. Dominion operates Virginia's largest fossil
> plant, the 1,700-megawatt Chesterfield plant south of Richmond.
> Meanwhile, this week the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental
> Protection is expected to propose a mercury rule that could be a model
> for Virginia. Gov. Ed Rendell (D) in May pledged that the state would
> toughen regulation, calling the EPA proposal "inadequate" to safeguard
> public health (Greenwire
, May 23). Several Pennsylvania lawmakers have questioned the
> appropriateness of the rule, however, given that Pennsylvania
> contributes roughly 2 percent of global mercury emissions
> Maryland also has considered state-based mercury regulation, but no
> plan emerged from a June meeting between Maryland state officials and EPA
> 2.htm> , July 25).
> Felice Stadler
> Policy Specialist
> National Wildlife Federation
> 1400 16th Street, NW, Suite 501
> Washington, DC 20036
> 202-797-5486 (fax)