Illinois sets rules all Lakes states should copy
Detroit Free Press
Published January 9, 2006
Gov. Rod Blagojevich of Illinois has taken a bold step toward
mercury control that other Great Lakes governors, including
Michigan's Jennifer Granholm, can emulate -- and use for
cover. If they all take shelter under this unexpectedly
strong proposal, the benefits will be great.
The plan put forward last week by Blagojevich calls for
coal-fired power plants to remove, on average, 90% of
their mercury emissions by June 30, 2009. That's a direct
rebuke to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which
has a rule so weak that it cannot even guarantee its goal
of a 70% reduction by 2018.
Blagojevich's plan is even more aggressive than others
put forward to counter the EPA's failings, including one
by the environmental wing of Granholm's mercury study
group. A model rule offered by a group of state and local
air pollution control officials has slightly tighter emissions
controls but included a longer timetable.
By following in Illinois' footsteps, Great Lakes governors
could make a huge difference quickly in the amount of
mercury -- which occurs naturally in coal -- that drops
out of the smoke from power plants and ultimately ends
up in the water. The other advantage of working in unison
is the common playing field it would create for the region's
utility companies. In an era of deregulation, already
uneven from state to state, competition can get skewed
if some states clamp down on mercury and others don't.
Once deposited in water, mercury works its way up the
food chain in toxic form and makes many fish, including
some in the Great Lakes and virtually all species in inland
waters, unsafe for anything but very occasional eating.
In the body, the toxic form of mercury hampers the brain
and nervous system. The most extreme example accounts
for the phrase "mad as a hatter," dating back
to when a mercury solution was used in hat-making.
After years of breathing the vapors, hat-makers would
show symptoms from trembling hands and slurred speech
to memory loss and irrationality.
Today, the biggest exposure comes from fish. Most worrisome
is damage done during pregnancy when mercury passes from
mother to offspring, affecting development.
Freshwater fish should be a healthy choice for them,
not a threat, and the states should seize this window
of opportunity to make it happen.