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Environmental Chairs Question Go It Alone Strategy for Mercury Emissions

Three of the four chairs of the Senate and House Environmental Resources and Energy Committees wrote to DEP Secretary Kathleen McGinty this week expressing concerns about “pursuing individual state action on a pollutant that is a national and even global problem.”

In August 2004, PennFuture filed a rulemaking petition with the Environmental Quality Board asking it to adopt regulations reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The Department of Environmental Protection responded to the petition by agreeing that state regulations were needed, although not agreeing with the approach recommended by PennFture. (PaED 6/17/05)

The letter sent this week by Sen. Mary Jo. White (R-Venango), Sen. Ray Musto (D-Luzerne) and Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware) said they agreed mercury is a series pollutant that must be addressed.

However, they said DEP’s strategy that “include(s) not only electric generating units but also other sources of mercury; a method for assessing mercury “hotspots”; the development of clean coal technologies; and an approach that considers the capacity and reliability of our electric grid infrastructure” goes far beyond what the petitioner suggested and recommended the department request the proper statutory authority from the General Assembly for its approach.

The chairs also noted the mercury regulation proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cover the entire country remains under legal challenge, including by DEP itself which asserts the proposal is illegal.

These and other challenges mean Pennsylvania will not understand the “full parameters within which it seeks to craft a Pennsylvania-specific mercury reduction rule” until decisions are reached as a result of the challenges to the federal rule.

They noted the federal mercury rule, which will reduce emissions by 70 percent by 2018, is expected to result in a 7 percent reduction in mercury deposition. U.S. utilities contribute only about 2 percent of the global anthropogenic mercury emissions, raising serious questions, they said, over whether even U.S. residents – let alone Pennsylvanians – would be the recipients of the benefits of a more-stringent state-specific mercury emission standard.

They also encouraged DEP to discuss the limits in Pennsylvania’s Air Pollution Control Act that prevent the state from adopting air quality standards more stringent than federal standards except in limited circumstances.

They expressed serious concern about DEP’s ability to develop a regulatory proposal within the six months allotted by the Environmental Quality Board’s rulemaking petition procedure given the need to involve the stakeholders and the agency’s Air Technical Advisory Committee in the process.

“At this point, we do not support a Pennsylvania-specific mercury emission standard which may be in conflict with the state Air Pollution Control Act, disregards Executive Order 1996-1 by failing to justify a compelling and articulable Pennsylvania interest and is the subject of litigation involving the Commonwealth and U.S. EPA.

“Furtherance of a state-specific mercury standard threatens to place Pennsylvania businesses and consumers at a severe competitive disadvantage without providing commensurate or even measurable health or environmental improvements to its citizens. For these reasons, we strongly urge DEP to reconsider its intentions to craft a Pennsylvania-specific mercury emission rule.”

Attachment: Environmental Chairs Mercury Petition Letter - PDF


7/29/2005

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