Reducing mercury emissions

The US EPA has announced new rules that would reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants 20% by 2010, with a goal of 70% reduction by 2018.

The Clean Air Mercury Rule will require reductions at the US’ largest remaining source of human-generated mercury emissions, electric utilities. The rule limits mercury emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants, and creates a market-based cap-and-trade program that will permanently cap utility mercury emissions in two phases: the first phase cap is 38 tons

beginning in 2010, with a final cap set at 15 tons beginning in 2018. The EPA says that by making mercury emissions a tradable commodity, the cap-and trade system provides a strong motivation for some utilities to make early emission reductions and for continuous improvements in control technologies.

But not everyone is in agreement with the idea that individual power plants could trade emissions credits, an idea that means that some US states would achieve reductions in mercury pollution while others would actually experience an increase.

According to, John Walke, director of the air pollution program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said this would result in enormous increases in mercury emissions in certain states. He cited an increase of 841% in California, 176% in Colorado, 241% in New Hampshire, and 56% in New Jersey.

And Martha Keating, a former mercury expert at EPA who is now a senior scientist at the Clean Air Task Force, said that that proper enforcement of the current Clean Air Act would be far more effective than the new mercury rule. “If the Clean Air Act was implemented as it should be, we would get significant reductions of mercury, upwards of 90 percent,” she said on US National Public Radio.

“It is unconscionable EPA is allowing power companies to trade in a powerful neurotoxin – it is unprecedented and illegal,” added William S. Becker, executive director of the bipartisan State and Territorial Air Pollution Program Administrators.

For more information about the rule, go to: