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New Report Finds Michigan Power Plants Emit 2,464 Pounds of Mercury Annually
Environmental and Public Health Groups Await Action by Governor
PIRGIM
Published September 8, 2005

LANSING—As Michiganders wait to see whether Governor Granholm decides to regulate mercury emissions from the state’s coal-fired power plants, a new PIRGIM (Public Interest Research Group in Michigan) report shows that Michigan power plants emit 2,464 lbs. of mercury annually, according to the most recent data available through EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI).

The report — “Made in the U.S.A.” — identifies which states and localities nationwide have the most mercury emissions from power plants and which power plants emit the most mercury.

“Mercury pollution from power plants is serious business,” said Jason Barbose, PIRGIM Field Associate. “Scientists have found that just a gram of mercury, about a drop, deposited over the course of a year was enough to contaminate the fish in a Wisconsin lake.”

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can affect the brain, heart, and immune system. Developing fetuses and children are especially at risk; even low-level exposure to mercury can cause learning disabilities, developmental delays, lowered IQ, and problems with attention and memory. EPA scientists estimate that one in six women has enough mercury in her body to put her child at risk should she become pregnant. Studies also indicate that mercury exposure is associated with an increased risk of heart attacks in adults.

Power plants are the largest industrial source of U.S. mercury emissions. Mercury pollution is so pervasive in Michigan that the state has posted mercury-related fish consumption advisories for every inland lake and all 2,199 miles of Great Lakes coastline. These advisories warn people to avoid or limit their consumption of certain types of fish.

PIRGIM’s “Made in the U.S.A.” uses 2003 data from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, the most recent available, to rank power plant mercury emissions by state, county, zip code, facility, and company. Key findings include:
• Michigan ranked 14th nationwide in power plant mercury pollution, emitting 2,464 pounds of mercury.
• Monroe County led the state in power plant mercury emissions, with 770 pounds, 31 percent of the state’s total power plant mercury emissions.
• DTE’s Monroe Power Plant was the largest power plant mercury emitter in the state, with 683 pounds, 28 percent of the state’s total power plant mercury emissions.
• The most polluting 15 companies in the U.S. emitted more than 48,000 pounds of mercury in 2003, 54% of power plant mercury emissions nationwide.

Under the Clean Air Act, sources of hazardous air pollutants, including mercury, are required to install pollution control technology to reduce these toxic emissions by the maximum achievable amount. EPA acknowledged in 2001 that compliance with the law would require reducing power plant mercury emissions by about 90 percent.

In March 2005, however, the EPA issued regulations that allow power plants to avoid the Clean Air Act’s maximum achievable control technology (MACT) requirement. This paved the way for a second, industry-favored “cap-and-trade rule” that allows power plants to buy and trade the right to pollute and delays even modest mercury reductions until at least 2018. On August 10, Michigan joined 14 other states in a lawsuit challenging the EPA rule.

Michigan's motion to intervene in the lawsuit came just two months after Michigan’s Mercury Utility Workgroup released its extensive final report and recommendations to the Governor on how Michigan’s power plants can significantly reduce mercury emissions. The report included utility industry and environmental group consensus that Michigan should exceed the weak federal rule and documented the availability of technology to achieve 90% mercury reduction. With the recommendations in hand, the Governor is expected to take action to set more protective mercury reduction standards for Michigan’s power plants. In 2002, the Governor made a campaign pledge to phase out mercury pollution from Michigan’s power plants.

“EPA is essentially saying that mercury from power plants isn’t toxic,” Barbose said. “That’s an outrageous statement that defies law and logic.”

“Fortunately, Governor Granholm can protect public health by reducing mercury pollution by 90 percent,” Barbose added. “By doing so, she would promote modern and clean technologies, create new jobs, protect our fishing and tourism industries, and take a huge step forward for Michigan families who want to fish our waters without worrying about mercury.”

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