States Toughen Federal Mercury Pollution Rules

pollution control equipment i i

We Energies' Presque Isle plant in northern Michigan added pollution-control equipment that strips mercury from the exhaust before it goes out the stacks. Elizabeth Shogren, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Elizabeth Shogren, NPR
pollution control equipment

We Energies' Presque Isle plant in northern Michigan added pollution-control equipment that strips mercury from the exhaust before it goes out the stacks.

Elizabeth Shogren, NPR

In 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency set the first requirements for coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury pollution from their exhausts. At the time, there were complaints that the new rule wasn't protective enough. As a result, more than a dozen states have set their own tougher rules.

Michigan is one of the many states rejecting the EPA's approach to reducing mercury pollution. The state will require power plants to cut 90 percent of mercury emissions by 2015.

Steven Chester, Michigan's Department of Environmental Quality director, says it's time to go after the biggest source of mercury in the country: coal-fired power plants. Chester says it's clear that power plants can slash emissions far more quickly than the federal rule requires — there's a power plant in Michigan that's already doing it.

The Presque Isle Power plant, owned by We Energies, sits on the shores of Lake Superior in Northern Michigan. Since early this year, it has been stripping as much as 90 percent of the mercury from its emissions. It is the first in the country to permanently install the necessary equipment.

But under EPA's rules, most plants in the United States won't have to install pollution controls like the ones at the Presque Isle plant for many years.

Mike Johnston says that's how it should be. He represents the Michigan Manufacturing Association, and thinks Michigan is making a costly mistake by speeding up mercury controls.

"When you're the worst economy in the nation with the highest unemployment rate where you've lost 289,000 jobs in the last five years, it doesn't make sense to spend money where there's no environmental benefit," Johnston says.

He says there's not enough evidence that cutting pollution from Michigan's 20 power plants will actually reduce mercury in the state's fish, and he believes the technologies aren't ready for prime time.

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