September 2005

Pennsylvania develops state-specific mercury regulations

Harrisburg, PA— Pennsylvania environmental protection secretary Kathleen A. McGinty announced that the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) approved DEP’s recommendation to move forward with plans to preserve the economic vitality of the state’s coal industry while protecting public health.

DEP received EQB approval to initiate a process to develop state-specific regulations to control mercury emissions in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania has filed several lawsuits challenging EPA’s final mercury emissions reduction rule for new and existing coal-fired power plants. The cases also challenge EPA’s subcategorization of coal types, which encourages fuel switching away from Pennsylvania bituminous coal in favor of coal mined in the western U.S.

“The federal mercury rule does not sufficiently protect public health and is a potentially severe blow to our economy,” McGinty said. “Inaction is not an option. We need to change course to keep our residents safe and our economy strong.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Mercury Rule became final in May 2005 and took effect nationwide on July 18. Pennsylvania must submit to EPA by November 17, 2006, a state plan that describes how it will implement and enforce the federal emissions guidelines or its own more protective standards.

There is a compelling interest to reduce state and local mercury emission levels. In 2003, electric steam generating units in Pennsylvania accounted for 77 percent of the 5.7 tons of mercury emitted from air contamination sources in the commonwealth. Texas is the only state with greater mercury emissions than Pennsylvania.

At least 45 states — including Pennsylvania — have issued fish consumption advisories because of elevated mercury levels in fish and shellfish and the adverse effects of mercury on human beings and animals.

The EPA rule places more stringent emissions standards on bituminous coal mined in eastern states like Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. The most stringent regulations are placed on waste coal.

Little or no reductions are required on power generating units using sub-bituminous coal from the West. Because of the disparities in the emission standards, owners of coal-fired units that generally burn bituminous coal could comply with the final mercury emissions standards simply by switching fuels. This encourages a shift away from Pennsylvania coal, and will result in a very real and significant economic dislocation for the state’s coal industry.

The Pennsylvania Coal Association and United Mine Workers of America joined the department in June 2004 to ask EPA to drop plans to disadvantage Pennsylvania coal. Although DEP, PCA and UMWA disagreed on key aspects of EPA’s rule, and although these organizations have not supported a state-specific rule, the groups were in total agreement with DEP on the overriding fact that the federal agency’s prejudicial treatment of Pennsylvania coal was harmful to the state’s economy.

Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) filed a petition in August 2004 asking the state to consider whether regulations need to be developed to control mercury emissions here. DEP responded on May 18 and reported that a proposed rulemaking should be developed to reduce mercury emissions in Pennsylvania. EQB’s action sets that rulemaking process in motion.

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