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Environmental Progress - Winter-Spring 2004

Mercury Reduction is a Priority

Says IEPA Director during testimony

IEPA Director Renee Cipriano

Director's Viewpoint

by Director Renee Cipriano

Recently, on behalf of Governor Rod Blagojevich, I testified at a hearing in Chicago held by U.S. EPA to hear comments on its current proposal to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. A short time later, I also participated on behalf of the Governor in a meeting on this issue arranged by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and was attended by representatives of the Illinois coal industry, both management and labor, and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's Office of Coal Development.

On April 22, Earth Day, Governor Blagojevich wrote President George W. Bush and urged him to call on U.S. EPA, which has indicated it will reconsider its mercury proposal, to remove the blatant discrimination against bituminous coal mined in Illinois and other eastern states. The Governor noted the original proposal imposes less stringent mercury reduction requirements on types of coal mined in western states. This flawed fuel-biased approach will likely cause a number of power plants to fuel switch from bituminous eastern coal to higher mercury-polluting sub-bituminous or western coal.

The Governor called for a national policy that instead "recognizes the importance of adopting standards that encourage the use of state-of-the-art control equipment to achieve reductions of mercury in the environment without unfairly pitting regions against each other."

Reduction of mercury in our environment is a major goal of Governor Blagojevich and the Illinois EPA. We are working with state lawmakers to pass the Mercury Reduction Act that will help keep mercury out of our schools and landfills in the future, for example, and are continuing many programs to safely dispose of existing mercury and to assess and monitor the sources and quantity of mercury in our air and water.

However, the largest source of mercury in the environment is from power plant emissions and it must be seriously addressed if we are to reduce this environmental health hazard that particularly threatens children and pregnant women who consume fish.

Rep. Karen May, Director Cipriano, Rep. Paul Froehlich and State Sen. Mattie Hunter
			announce Governor Blagojecivh's Mercury Reduction act Legislation.

Rep. Karen May, Director Cipriano, Rep. Paul Froehlich and State Sen. Mattie Hunter announce Governor Blagojecivh's Mercury Reduction act Legislation.

The Illinois EPA requires coal-fired power plant applicants to evaluate the use of Integrated Gasification Coal Combustion (IGCC) as part of meeting the Best Available Control Technology demonstration. This is a key example of Illinois' commitment to improve air quality by promoting control technologies that continue to advance. In addition, we are working closely with the Office of Coal Development in the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to aggressively seek new clean-coal technology for Illinois, such as the FutureGen project.

But we are concerned that the proposed federal mercury regulation does too little, too late and in Illinois could actually lead to increased mercury emissions. Besides these environmental concerns, the proposed rule also would impose an additional unfair and crushing burden on the backs of Illinois coal miners and perhaps deal a death blow to the industry at a time when Governor Blagojevich is working hard to promote a revived coal industry in our state — a plentiful source of fuel that could be used in an environmentally responsible way with the control technology that is available now and will only get better in the near future.

As Senator Durbin so aptly stated, "It's an approach that unfairly advantages western coal and will end up harming public health, as well as the economies in Illinois and other states producing eastern coal."

In addition, the projected mercury reductions that would be derived from any of the proposals are not appropriately aggressive relative to the seriousness of the environmental consequences caused by mercury emissions. Mercury reduction should be a national responsibility and should not rest on the backs of Illinois coal miners or pose further hazards to the health of Illinois citizens.

We will continue to lobby vigorously, with other states when possible, for the U.S. EPA to reassess its proposal and call for standards that will result in real reductions of mercury.

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