Twinsburg firm hopes for tough mercury emission
By Sabrina Eaton
Washington- Mercury that spews into the air from Ohio
power plants could translate into gold for Sid Nelson
Jr.'s Twinsburg-based Sorbent Technologies, which has
developed a way to filter the toxic metal out of smokestack
But the future of Nelson's company depends on the outcome
of a politically charged debate over how and when coal-burning
plants will have to reduce emissions of mercury, which
harms human brains. Airborne mercury that gets into waterways
has led to warnings against eating mercury-laden tuna
and any fish caught in Ohio waters.
Today could be the make-or-break day for Nelson's dreams
of selling $100 million worth of Sorbent's mercury-absorbing
powder to utilities each year. That's when the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency will formally release its long-awaited
proposal to reduce power plant emissions of mercury.
"This is absolutely critical for us," said
Nelson, who is perturbed by reports that the EPA will
postpone its deepest mercury cuts until 2018, a decade
later than expected. He said mercury research and reductions
would be devastated by a later deadline.
"It will stop everything for about a generation,"
he predicted. "By the time they get around to this
problem again, I'll be retired, everyone at EPA and the
Energy Department who worked on it will be retired, and
in the meantime, we will have knocked a couple of IQ points
off the U.S. population."
The Bush administration has indicated that it favors
a mercury reduction approach that has been sanctioned
by utilities. It wants to set a nationwide cap on mercury
emissions and let plants that make big cuts sell credits
to those that don't. EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said
the approach worked well to reduce acid rain and is allowable
under both the Clean Air Act and the terms of a lawsuit
settlement the EPA reached during President Clinton's
She said the EPA's plan, which mirrors Bush's Clear Skies
legislative proposal, would cut airborne mercury from
power plants to 15 tons nationwide by 2018, a 70 percent
reduction. Initial cuts would be from 48 tons to 34 tons
The EPA will finalize the plan next year. Bergman said
it would establish the first-ever federal limits on mercury
emissions. Though the EPA will propose a second mercury
reduction plan today that is more in line with environmentalists'
wishes, Bergman said her agency strongly backs a "cap
and trade" program.
"We believe it will give us the fastest, steepest
reductions," said Bergman. "It will give utilities
incentives to reduce emissions early and take advantage
of developing technologies."
Environmental groups say the Clean Air Act and the previous
legal settlement demand a different approach. They favor
reducing mercury emissions to 5 tons a year by 2008, with
uniform cuts at every plant. They say the trading program
would lead to mercury "hot spots" around power
plants that buy credits instead of reducing their output
and predict particularly severe problems in Ohio because
its power plants are second only to Texas in mercury emissions.
To show that areas around power plants bear the harmful
brunt of mercury emissions, they point to a recent Florida
study that showed mercury levels decreased by 60 to 70
percent in Everglades wildlife in the two decades since
South Florida made local incinerators reduce mercury emissions.
They also cite research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration that traced most mercury pollution in the
Great Lakes to coal burning in nearby states.
"The rules that EPA is proposing are too weak,"
said Zoe Lipman of the National Wildlife Federation. "Allowing
utilities to trade with folks elsewhere will result in
more mercury falling locally, especially in states like
Ohio with lots of old, dirty power plants."
Akron-based FirstEnergy supports the cap and trade program
and hopes that any rules that are finalized will "allow
for flexibility on how we meet the regulations and give
us enough time to do so," said spokesman Ralph DiNicola.
He said FirstEnergy owns an 18 percent interest in New
Hampshire-based Powerspan, a company developing mercury
emissions control technology that will be tested next
month at FirstEnergy's R.E. Burger Plant in southern Ohio.