Tuesday, October 28, 2008

While Bush administration stalls on mercury, states try novel cleanup approach

Northeastern states are pursuing a novel approach, attempting to use the Clean Water Act to demand reductions in airborne mercury emissions.

You have to stand up and applaud these folks.

But also marvel that the Bush administration has been so in the pocket of the coal-burning electric companies that it has come to this.

This ought to help build up some momentum for a good mercury control program by the next administration.

Press Release
Contact: Beth Card or Susy King, 978-323-7929, bcard@neiwpcc.org, sking@neiwpcc.org
For Immediate Release
October 28, 2008

Northeast States Petition U.S. EPA to Control Out-of-Region Mercury Emissions

Utilizing a never-before-used provision of the Clean Water Act, seven Northeast states have triggered a mandatory process for the U.S. EPA to control the atmospheric deposition of mercury that makes fish throughout the Northeast unsafe to eat. The states filed a petition with Administrator Johnson under the Clean Water Act’s Section 319(g), which requires U.S. EPA to craft agreements to resolve multi-state pollution issues. The seven states—Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont—collaborated with the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission (NEIWPCC) to prepare the petition. Section 319(g) of the law requires the U.S. EPA Administrator to respond to the petition by convening a management conference including all states that are significant sources of the mercury in Northeast waters. The purpose of the conference must be to develop an agreement among such states to reduce the level of pollution and improve the water quality of the New England states and New York State. This unprecedented multi-state action underscores the determination of the Northeast states to resolve the problem of contaminated fish and to address the main cause—mercury deposited in the Northeast from sources outside the region.

“With the filing of this petition, we are saying that the negative impact posed by atmospheric deposition of mercury from out-of-region sources cannot be allowed to continue unabated,” said Ronald Poltak, Executive Director of NEIWPCC. “As a region, we have chosen to address the problem with a comprehensive strategy that in part requires the federal government to play an active role in controlling mercury pollution and in the negotiation of an agreement that will allow the Northeast states to restore water quality and remove fish consumption advisories.”

In the Northeast, elevated levels of mercury in certain fish species have resulted in statewide fish consumption advisories covering more than 10,000 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs, and over 46,000 river miles in the region. The persistent need for these advisories comes despite nearly a decade of work within the Northeast that substantially reduced regional mercury emissions and discharges. Multiple research studies have shown that the majority of mercury in the states’ waters now comes from out-of-region sources such as coal-fired power plants, whose mercury emissions drift to the region on air currents and then fall directly into waterways or get carried by runoff into them.

“Since 1998 the Northeast states have been working aggressively to control our sources of mercury to the environment. We have reduced deposition from our own sources by over 70 percent between 1998 and 2002,” said Andrew Fisk, director of the Bureau of Land and Water Quality for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. “All Northeast states have emissions controls on our utilities that meet our plan’s requirements for out-of-region sources. If it can be done in our states, it can be done in other states. We are asking for a stringent federal program that would require just that.”

The filing of the petition today is not the first time that the seven states have collaborated in a major move to address mercury contamination. In June 2006, they were among the 16 states that sued the federal government over the legality of EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule, which would have limited mercury reductions to 70 percent and delayed those until 2018. And in October 2007, the Northeast states submitted to EPA the Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which like the petition was developed in conjunction with NEIWPCC. The TMDL stipulates the precise amount by which mercury arriving in the region from out-of-region sources must be reduced if the fish are to be safe to eat. Late last year, EPA approved the TMDL and endorsed the needed reductions, and earlier this year the states prevailed in federal appeals court when EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule was declared invalid. The petition brings the effort to a new level by describing precisely where the mercury is coming from and the first steps for controlling it.

“We look forward to sitting down at the table with EPA to develop an agreement,” said Fisk. “The goals are clear, and the technology needed to meet them is available. Let’s get to work so that our fish are safe to eat.”

Information on mercury pollution and the Northeast states’ reduction initiatives, the Northeast Regional Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load report and the §319(g), petition are available online at www.neiwpcc.org/mercury.

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