UK’s coal-fired heating plants creating smog, polluting air

This letter is a response to a Jan. 12 column titled “Modern coal mining is essential for the future.”

I would urge all UK students and Lexington citizens to observe the two coal-fired heating plants on UK’s campus. One is located, ironically, next to UK’s hospital. The other is located on South Upper Street.

You won’t miss them.

They are the buildings with the not-quite-high-enough smokestacks churning out the blue-gray smog that often hovers at street level, creeps into your parked cars, onto your faces as you stroll downtown and through campus, into your homes and ultimately into your lungs.

While the issue of coal-fired heating plants is often far removed because we cannot see them or the pollution they generate, we have two coal-fired heating plants right in the middle of our city, churning out toxins such as mercury, arsenic, dioxin and lead and creating a cloud of smog that can be seen for miles in our city.

Do not be fooled — UK’s coal-fired heating plants do not utilize modern “clean coal” technology, such as scrubbers.

As a citizen of Lexington, I am horrified by the idea that UK will burn coal in the middle of our city well into the foreseeable future because UK is unwilling to break its ties with “big coal” and transition 100 percent to cleaner energy sources such as natural gas.

Let us all observe UK’s two coal-fired heating plants, take an active interest in the health of ourselves, our family and citizenry, and demand that UK clean up its act and stop polluting Lexington’s air and water.

Angela Minella, Esq., is a UK College of Law alumnus. Email opinions@kykernel.com.

Angela, I’ve pulled a couple articles from researchers and critics of the Harvard study. In general, it’s not scientific so much as political. An example is that the study assumes a cost of $30 per ton (or 100 ton? trouble searching the pdf) of burned coal. The costs are associated with global warming-man made global warming being a rather contested issue, despite all the supposed “consensus”.
There’s a few other pretty good examples I’ll try and get to, but I did end up reading up on the washing method of processing coal. For those who may not know that’s a lot of where the coal slush water ponds come from etc.
which do have impacts on the environment and water quality, though generally not enough to amount to a dangerous level (mercury), unless one is going to eat 300 or so fish a year out of that creek…. Still, the cost of eliminating those should and could be factored into the cost of the coal. What’s interesting is the advancement of the “dry” wash method, more expensive, but not by much. eliminating the waste water ponds. Still, even those critical of the Harvard study ended up saying there was a more realistic estimate of $50 billion (no chump change) that can be directly related to coal mining/processing that is being born by someone other than the coal company. (such as limited liability for cleanups, etc)
There is a lot of information, just following up on one of the studies cited in the Harvard papers takes time and leads to relevant info on similar but different subjects.

Also, in general in reference to the comments on here, I disagree with Angela on just about everything, and I freely admit to my sarcasm that crops up from time to time, but just calling her, or those whose opinions differ from yours, names is not going to win any one to your cause.

There are some who you will never be able to sway through argument, a radical change of an individuals view of the world is not something that happens quickly, if at all. However, I always feel that you do yourself and your cause a disservice by belittling and calling someone names instead of challenging them on the battlefield of ideas.

I’ve personally learned a lot from my exchange with Angela. Her informed arguments and citations forced me to delve deeper and learn more about coal, mercury poisoning, relationships to autism etc-which has better allowed me to defend and advance my own position.

These past few days while in Florida I was working with and got to talking about natural gas Fracking with a Canadian and a Pennsylvanian. I was able to share the withdrawn and flawed studies that the EPA had claimed showed “water pollution” from fracking, something neither had heard of. I doubt it changed their position, but, they at seemed interested enough that they may follow through on their intentions to read up more on the subject.

Also, as an Alumni myself, I think anyone with a tie to UK should have reason enough to share on the boards. Frankly, I feel I learned more in 6 months “out in the real world” having to fend for myself in the business environment than I ever did in my Gatton classes. (though some of the professors words finally started to make sense) I know it gets frustrating, especially for those with such passion or who hear the same stuff over and over, but trust me, this is a cake walk compared to what you’ll deal with with your coworkers lol

I do accept as true with all of the ideas you’ve presented on your post. They’re very convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are very brief for beginners. May you please prolong them a little from next time? Thank you for the post.

Imagine her being your lawyer and having to sit through her rambling and “facts” that dont make sense. Must have a lot of down time.

yay!! We shut up the lawyer who wants to argue with a bunch of college students. Must be because she can’t win in the court room.

Aaron- I think the Cats are going all the way this year.

Kathryn- Really? Just another invite? I believe I asked you to describe, in detail, the “environmental controls” on UK’s coal-fired heating plants. I also asked you to back-up your claim that the reason Lexington is highest in particulate matter for a city our size is due to our location to two interstates. And I asked you to provide the numbers- i.e. particulate level (from interstates) versus particulate level (from UK’s heating plants).

You can’t reason with people like Ms. Minella. When presented with logic and facts, individuals of her ilk always fall back on personal insults, sarcasm and grammar/spelling. I wonder if Ms. Minella rides a bicycle to work, reads by candlelight, shuns synthetic materials and touts a zero carbon footprint? Perhaps, but my guess is no.

As for the Harvard study that all anti-coal individuals now hang their hats on, it is flawed in several aspects. It fails to take into consideration certain environmental and socioeconomic factors that also impact human health in communities located near surface mining operations. I will not go into detail on these factors, but accessibility to healthcare, education, diet and income levels all play a significant role. Those metrics were not given due consideration in the Harvard study.

I applaud those of you in the UK mining engineering program. From discussions I have had with past and present students, it seems everyone is on board with finding more environmentally friendly ways to extract and use this very important resource. Keep up the good work!

Internet superhero Angela Minella at your service! Changing the world by completing one long-winded post at a time! Equipped with the power to use “naive” in every attack and formulate smarmy condescension in every paragraph!

As an alumni of the Mining Engineering Program at the University of Kentucky and practicing engineer, I would like to point something out. Mining engineers will be the ones who innovate and streamline the industry. These will be the individuals you will want to partner with because of their specific expertise in their field.

As engineers, we are always open to statistics, studies, and well thought out solutions to a given problem. We apply this to the industry every day. Mining has been around since the dawn of time and will be with us long into the future. We are constantly striving to provide society with its mineral needs for roads, cars, toothpaste, makeup in the most efficient, environmentally friendly way.

So please, work with the future innovators of this industry rather than trade shots across the bow. If any of you are interested in the curriculum of our program, or any other mining engineering programs across the country, I am sure they would be more than happy to allow you to explore it! Talk to Kathryn for I am certain she has relevant contact information for each of these institutions.

Angela, thank you for your concern! Please visit the Mining and Minerals Resource Building located just off of Rose Street and have a look around. Come prepared with an open and inquisitive mind. you will find a very knowledgeable group.

Kathryn, please continue to convey your expertise throughout your career! I think you will find a very uneducated public on many issues of engineering and science, not just mining.

All–we have many challenges facing our country and our world. We must begin an open, unbiased dialogue on all fronts if we wish to ever discover practical solutions!

Now, for something that belongs on a forum board: How far are the Wildcats going to make it this season?

how much is friends of coal paying you? Go back to using your catchy jingles and black bumper stickers. Youre just jealous you dont have a cool nickname like “the tiger” or “the heavy hitter”.

Well it looks like Angela here is a personal injury attorney and the like. So I’m thinking she’s just hawking the “evils of coal” and using other fear words so she can drum up support so she can start filing personal injury ads against UK (laughable) and get one of those annoying lawyer ads on TV so she can line her pockets with money. Remember kids, never trust a lawyer, they were taught to lie in school.

Many thoughtful, intelligent people are debating the energy challenges of this nation, of which coal is a part, without being condescending. Condescending, personal attacks have no place in this argument. Calling a student and employee of the industry which is being discussed naive, “sweetie,” and “dear” imply an unwillingness to consider opinions from the other side.
That said, the course of this debate online has been interesting. I personally have been busy with my main focus, work and my studies in mining engineering, which this semester have included surface mining law and practice as well as MSHA policies class, taught by a knowledgable former deputy director of the aforementioned organization. As a result, these comments escaped my notice until tonight.
I would like to invite you to discuss your comments on campus with organizations such as the Kentucky Energy Club, an organization specifically designed to host a balanced discussion of topics such as the ones being discussed here. I would love to hear your views on what is to be done next, in person, as I feel this argument has outgrown the Kernel.
Arguments that to focus on the negative with no feasible solutions seem to defeat the purpose; potentially, a constructive debate would be stimulating and lead to progress in the field.

Actually, John, my dear friend of coal, I think you meant to write, “There are some people on which you should not waste your time.”

I’m sure you meant to write that.

Here are some tips next time you weigh in here, even while you, ironically, advise others not to weigh in because “you become that much dumber”:

1.) Learn English.
2.) Make sure insults and accusations about intelligence contain, at a minimum, proper grammar.

Daniel, I certainly will not hush, and I have indeed provided solutions. You have just not heard them. And if you don’t like what I say, don’t read it. Simple as that. And, lastly, what is a “condensing comment”? Is that like when you called me an ambulance chaser? I think that’s called a condescending comment. Just fyi.

I think it’s interesting how Kathryn has failed to respond to my very specific questions regarding her own set of “facts.” Kathryn, where did you go? Are you doing some research….I hope?

Since Jordan is the only person who wrote anything interesting and of substance, I will respond directly to him in a later posting.

John, ignoring her may save you some frustration, but if possible, it is always better to engage in a conversation with those who disagree with you. Far from becoming dumber, you have a tendency to better understand your opponents argument, and in having to defend your own position-you often learn more and have a better understanding of the over all subject matter. Which either leads to being able to better articulate and defend your position, or perhaps modify or abandon it (for you or your opponent)

Angela: only read through page 10 (of 26) so far of the Epstein article. It doesn’t appear to be a new study, but rather mostly a compilation of studies on various aspects of research to determine coals costson the environment, health etc. I won’t be able to write much on it till Tuesday night at the earliest.

However, lets just assume for now that they are correct, which means with their best to high estimates, the price of coal per kwh should rise 18-37 cents. It still would be cheaper than other renewables like wind and solar (geothermal i haven’t looked into much and can’t find a way to compare on a kwh level) but renewables becomes even less competitive with fossil fuels if you applied epsteins costs to wind and solar as well. Cost on health, production, heavy metal mining-solar, audible and subsonic noise and the health risks of wind, dead birds/bats, tourism etc.

The issue as to the size and cost of the the studies externalities boils down to three main considerations:
1) the relationship between air pollution levels and human health/mortality
2) the monetary value placed on human life
3) the monetary damages from climate change caused by the burning of coal
some of those costs are subjective estimates, but I’ll try and focus Tuesday on number 1 and some on number 3, but mostly in a way of high lighting the flaws of the original research Epstein uses to draw his conclusions from. (some of then we’ve talked on already, similar to the “coal mercury leads to autism and other health fallacies”)

I have been saying ever since she has decided to pipe in to just ignore her and her comments. Everyone that has left comments about her posts realizes that she has no idea what she is talking about. Please just do not respond to her comments. If you read them you become that much dumber.

Mrs. Minella

How about you go chase some more ambulances. I’m sick of your naïve condensing comments. You have really failed to cite one piece of proper evidence. You have implied that every mining engineer and or friend of coal is naïve. That our ideas are garbage. However you have not provided one potential solution. People like you are the kind of people hard working innovative people hate. You are what we call a pessimist. You are not productive in this argument and you have no basis for it. So please hush either be part of the solution or go sit in the corner and watch.

My apologies Jordan. That must be what’s happening. My comment does indeed say “waiting for moderation” at the top. I’ll see if I can get the info on here one source at a time. In the meantime, here’s the study from Harvard Medical School, Center for Health and Global Environment. You should be able to get to the study via the link below. Interested in your thoughts.

http://chge.med.harvard.edu/publications/reports/index.html

Angela, seems you’ve been missing me? Sorry I’m a bit behind in my responses, doing some work down here in Florida for the week, and the 12 hour days are taking a toll.
However, I’m curious, what are the facts you’ve presented that I haven’t been able to refute? I’d like to know what it is I’m supposed to be responding to?(In all fairness, if you included a post with a significant amount of links as sources, then it probably hasn’t posted on the public forum, mind checking to see if your post says “waiting for moderator approval” or something to that affect, or did you post it in another comments section?)

Would you mind posting a link or citing the authors of the Harvard study? I’ve googled a few things, but nothing specific has been cited so hard to know what to respond to. My gut tells me that when disecting the Harvard study I would be very curious to see how the allocated the different toxins to coal burning etc and not other naturally occuring sources or other contributors etc, and then go from there.

There’s lots of money in UK’s endowment fun, but higher education needs to take a hard look on what they’re spending their money on, and what is necessary in providing a competitive higher education at a competitive price that actually benefits those financially who complete their degree (generally known as the “higher education bubble”)

As for your questions/concerns on the particulate releases, measurements, that are exactly the kinds of questions that need to be asked. Then again, how come you didn’t cite any of that evidence in your original letter? (again, if it’s in the comments, check to see if it’s been approved, cause I don’t see it, try emailing the opinion or editors desk)

So that’s the best you can do Jordan? I’m genuinely disappointed. I gave you some of my sources. I gave you some of those facts you were calling out for. All you can do is insult. You can’t refute. “Emotionally compelling/factually illiterate”? Seems like the pot is calling the kettle black.

Kathryn, your comments are so incredibly naive for so many reasons, I’m practically blushing for you.

One, who has talked about tearing down the heating plants and rebuilding them? I have not. At least not at this point in time. The heating plants currently burn natural gas and could do so fully or, at a minimum, on an increased basis without being “torn down.”

The price of natural gas is “volatile.” Well sure Kathryn, tell me something I don’t already know. Have you checked out the price of coal lately? Also, when you facgor in the environmental and human cost of burning coal, as you clearly do not, coal costs more. Researchers at Harvard Universty, an institution of higher learning that blows UK off the map, has determined the hidden costs of coal- the cancer, the pollution, the lost mountaintops, the mercury in our food and water supply- is around $345 billion per year. These collateral costs would raise coal’s price per kilowatt hour by a minimum of 18 cents.

Two, you state that tearing down the heating plants is not possible with UK’s budget. That is really very humorous Kathryn. UK’s new president is bringing in $500,000/year and will be offered a “performance bonus” in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Calipari’s base salary is $400,000/year + country club membership (includes monthly dues) + retention bonuses of up to $3 million + incentive bonuses in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The money is there, little one. Perhaps UK just needs to get its priorities straight.

Three, you throw out the term “environmental controls” when speaking of UK’s coal-powered heating plants. Would you like to describe those for me and for your friend Jordan, in detail? I know all about UK’s “environmental controls” on those plants. Let’s see if you do.

Four, Kathryn are you truly able to back-up your claim that the reason Lexington is highest in particulate matter for a city our size is do to our location to interstates, as if that is a rarity when it comes to cities our size? Give me a break sweetie. What city our size doesn’t neighbor an interstate or two or three? And are you able to quantify (that means with numbers dear) the particulate contribution from the interstates in comparison to the particulate contribution from UK’s heating plants?

And to anybody wanting to tour any of UK’s heating plants, I would advise that you invest in an air respirator first. I know many UK employees who work near those heating plants, and they wouldn’t bring their loved ones anywhere near those plants much less in them. Bet you don’t include that in the tour.

Katheryn G. Thanks for the information. Real information, not just emotionally compelling factually illiterate writing. (cough-Angela-cough). Hopefully people will take the time to delve in to what your website/tour has to offer before making up their mind on an issue. I hope u submit your comment as a letter to the editor in response to angelas letter. Thanks for putting some effort into this.

I must have touched a nerve as well, to create such a response as this.
A mistake in semantics. You are correct, the heating plant does not have scrubbers, though it does have other environmental controls to reduce particulates. All things aside, here are several facts. While Lexington is the highest in particulate matter for any city its size, the reason has to do being sandwiched between 2 big interstates and a trucking hub. The UK plants have minimal impact at all. The installers will even admit the air quality monitoring system was installed wrong and UK’s air measures higher than is actual. These facts come straight from the Center for Applied Energy at UK.
With respect to natural gas, the natural gas market is highly volatile with respect to prices and energy security.
Our heating plants are outdated, but to completely tear down and rebuild at this time in the budget reduction at UK would be nearly impossible, as to rebuild would be enormously expensive. The reason we have them on campus is to reduce costs for students, and cut out the middle man.
I urge everyone to view the new site that launched yesterday, empowered.uky.edu. This site shows the facts about UK energy, how much buildings use and what for, the heating and cooling plants, and how the energy is obtained. There is no question that reducing energy consumption will help the environment.
I would like to invite you, and all other interested individuals, to tour the UK Heating Plant with the Energy Club and the mining organization, as we are currently working on setting up a tour.

Jordan- No amount of facts would be enough or accepted. Your very repetitive comment asserting I’m “not citing the facts” is your way of diminishing my point of view. Despite any number of facts or sources I may cite, you would refute, degrade, diminish, contradict, etc. with as much force as you did with my comments to Kathryn’s article touting the coal industry. Jordan, you are pro-coal. No matter what I or anybody says to the contrary- factual or not- you would simply degrade it.

If you would like some facts and modern commentary and discussion of this issue, here are just a fraction of my sources. I want you to specifically refute every citation I have included below- this means every statistic, every report, etc.- and cite your sources please. When you are done with that, I’ll include much much more.

In an average year, a typical coal plant generates:

3,700,000 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary human cause of global warming–as much carbon dioxide as cutting down 161 million trees.

10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2), which causes acid rain that damages forests, lakes, and buildings, and forms small airborne particles that can penetrate deep into lungs.

500 tons of small airborne particles, which can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death, as well as haze obstructing visibility.

10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), as much as would be emitted by half a million late-model cars. NOx leads to formation of ozone (smog) which inflames the lungs, burning through lung tissue making people more susceptible to respiratory illness.

720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), which causes headaches and place additional stress on people with heart disease.

220 tons of hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC), which form ozone.

170 pounds of mercury, where just 1/70th of a teaspoon deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat.

225 pounds of arsenic, which will cause cancer in one out of 100 people who drink water containing 50 parts per billion.

114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium.
http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/coalvswind/c02c.html

Coal-fired power plants release more toxic air pollutants such as arsenic and lead than any other U.S. industrial pollution source, says a report Tuesday by the American Lung Association.

“It’s time that we end the ‘toxic loophole’ that has allowed coal-burning power plants to operate without any federal limits on emissions of mercury, arsenic, dioxin, acid gases such as hydrogen chloride and other dangerous pollutants,” said Charles D. Connor, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, in announcing the findings.

“Power plant pollution kills people,” Connor said, citing a recent estimate that it causes 13,000 deaths each year. “It threatens the brains and nervous system of children. It can cause cancer, heart attacks and strokes.”

The ALA report says some plants use readily available technologies to control toxic emissions, but more need to do so. It says more than 400 plants in 46 states spew 386,000 tons of 84 separate hazardous air pollutants. It adds:

Their emissions threaten the health of people who live near these plants, as well as those who live hundreds of miles away. Despite the concentration of these plants largely in the Midwest and Southeast, their toxic emissions threaten the air in communities nationwide.
The process of burning coal releases chemicals into the atmosphere that threaten not only the air Americans breathe, but the water they drink, the soil they live on and the food they eat. EPA classifies many of these chemicals as “hazardous air pollutants” or “air toxics,” a category that means they are known or reasonably expected to harm human health or the environment or both. Hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants include:
• Acid gases, such as hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride;
• Benzene, toluene and other compounds;
• Dioxins and furans;
• Formaldehyde;
• Lead, arsenic, and other metals;
• Mercury;
• Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH); and
• Radioactive materials, like radium and uranium.
http://content.usatoday.com/communities/greenhouse/post/2011/03/coal-power-plants-air-pollution/1

WASHINGTON, DC, November 21, 2008 (ENS) – The top 50 most-polluting coal-burning power plants in the United States emitted 20 tons of toxic mercury into the air in 2007, finds a new report from the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project. Of the top 10 mercury emitting power plants, all but one reported an increase as compared to 2006.

Once released into the atmosphere, mercury settles in lakes and rivers, where it moves up the food chain to humans who eat contaminated fish. The Centers for Disease Control has found that six percent of American women have mercury in their blood at levels that would put a fetus at risk of neurological damage.

Mercury’s harmful effects that may be passed from the mother to the fetus include brain damage, mental retardation, incoordination, blindness, seizures, and inability to speak, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances. Children poisoned by mercury may develop problems of their nervous and digestive systems, and kidney damage.

More Southern Company power plants are among the dirtiest mercury emitters than those of any other company, according to the report, which is based on data reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency.

Southern Company’s Miller power plant, in Jefferson County, Alabama, tops the list of mercury emitters, reporting nearly a ton of mercury air pollution in 2007, the most recent period for which data is available. This represents a 13.57 percent increase over the plant’s 2006 reported emissions.

In April 2006, the plant’s operator, Alabama Power, announced it would spend $200 million to remove nitrogen oxide emissions by 2008 and sulfur dioxide emissions by 2011, but no mercury removal technology has been announced for the Miller plant.

In total, eight Southern Company plants in Georgia and Alabama are ranked among the top 50 power plant mercury emitters.

The dozen states with plants emitting the most mercury are – in order from highest to lowest – Texas, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Arkansas.

Texas power plants hold five slots among the nation’s highest 10 mercury emitters.

From Austin, Environmental Integrity Project attorney Ilan Levin said, “When the original Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, the electric utility industry persuaded Congress to not impose strict pollution controls on old power plants, because they would soon be replaced by newer state-of-the-art facilities. Yet despite the industry’s promises, many of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest power plants continue to operate.”

“Pollution controls that dramatically reduce emissions are widely available, and already being used at many plants,” said Levin. “But, until the public and policymakers hold the electric utility industry to its promised cleanup of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest power plants, Americans will continue to bear unnecessary health and environmental costs.”

The Environmental Integrity Project report says, “Activated carbon injection, which is commercially available and has been tested through the Department of Energy’s Clean Coal Power Initiative, can achieve mercury reductions of 90 percent on both bituminous and sub-bituminous coals.”

“In addition,” the report says, “mercury can be significantly reduced as a co-benefit of controls for other pollutants, such as fabric filters, sulfur dioxide scrubbers, and selective catalytic reduction.”

Jan Jarrett, president and chief executive of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, said, “These continued high mercury emissions from Pennsylvania plants clearly demonstrate the need for Pennsylvania’s state-specific mercury rule that was adopted in February of 2007.”

“Our rule requires an 80 percent reduction in mercury emissions from power plants by 2010 and a 90 percent reduction by 2015 and does not allow power plants to trade toxic mercury emissions,” he said.

Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury air pollution, accounting for roughly 40 percent of all mercury emissions nationwide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The mercury they emit is affecting national parks, warns Bart Melton, an analyst with the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association.

“National parks across the U.S. suffer from high concentrations of mercury pollution – a key source of which are coal-fired power plants. At the Great Smoky Mountains, mercury pollution is continually showered over the park, and then works its way up the food chain, threatening the health of park visitors and wildlife,” Melton said. “We need to shut off the toxic mercury spigot at coal-fired power plants to keep national park visitors and wildlife healthy.”

While some of the dirtiest plants are reporting reductions in mercury emissions since 2006, the majority of the worst 50 plants increased their mercury emissions through 2007.

In 2005, over the objections of environmentalists, the U.S. EPA introduced a weak cap-and-trade rule, which would have allowed power plants to either reduce their own mercury pollution or buy pollution credits from other plants. In February 2008, a federal appeals court ruled that EPA’s approach to power plant mercury emissions violates the Clean Air Act, and vacated the EPA regulation.

The Environmental Integrity Project was established in March 2002 to advocate for more effective enforcement of environmental laws. The organization was founded by Eric Schaeffer, who served as director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement. Schaeffer resigned in 2002 after publicly expressing his frustration with efforts of the Bush administration to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws.
Southern Company’s Miller power plant, in Jefferson County, Alabama, tops the list of mercury emitters, reporting nearly a ton of mercury air pollution in 2007, the most recent period for which data is available. This represents a 13.57 percent increase over the plant’s 2006 reported emissions.

In April 2006, the plant’s operator, Alabama Power, announced it would spend $200 million to remove nitrogen oxide emissions by 2008 and sulfur dioxide emissions by 2011, but no mercury removal technology has been announced for the Miller plant.

In total, eight Southern Company plants in Georgia and Alabama are ranked among the top 50 power plant mercury emitters.

The dozen states with plants emitting the most mercury are – in order from highest to lowest – Texas, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, North Dakota, Missouri, Kansas, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Arkansas.

Texas power plants hold five slots among the nation’s highest 10 mercury emitters.

From Austin, Environmental Integrity Project attorney Ilan Levin said, “When the original Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, the electric utility industry persuaded Congress to not impose strict pollution controls on old power plants, because they would soon be replaced by newer state-of-the-art facilities. Yet despite the industry’s promises, many of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest power plants continue to operate.”

“Pollution controls that dramatically reduce emissions are widely available, and already being used at many plants,” said Levin. “But, until the public and policymakers hold the electric utility industry to its promised cleanup of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest power plants, Americans will continue to bear unnecessary health and environmental costs.”

The Environmental Integrity Project report says, “Activated carbon injection, which is commercially available and has been tested through the Department of Energy’s Clean Coal Power Initiative, can achieve mercury reductions of 90 percent on both bituminous and sub-bituminous coals.”

“In addition,” the report says, “mercury can be significantly reduced as a co-benefit of controls for other pollutants, such as fabric filters, sulfur dioxide scrubbers, and selective catalytic reduction.”

Jan Jarrett, president and chief executive of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, said, “These continued high mercury emissions from Pennsylvania plants clearly demonstrate the need for Pennsylvania’s state-specific mercury rule that was adopted in February of 2007.”

“Our rule requires an 80 percent reduction in mercury emissions from power plants by 2010 and a 90 percent reduction by 2015 and does not allow power plants to trade toxic mercury emissions,” he said.

Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury air pollution, accounting for roughly 40 percent of all mercury emissions nationwide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The mercury they emit is affecting national parks, warns Bart Melton, an analyst with the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association.

“National parks across the U.S. suffer from high concentrations of mercury pollution – a key source of which are coal-fired power plants. At the Great Smoky Mountains, mercury pollution is continually showered over the park, and then works its way up the food chain, threatening the health of park visitors and wildlife,” Melton said. “We need to shut off the toxic mercury spigot at coal-fired power plants to keep national park visitors and wildlife healthy.”

While some of the dirtiest plants are reporting reductions in mercury emissions since 2006, the majority of the worst 50 plants increased their mercury emissions through 2007.

In 2005, over the objections of environmentalists, the U.S. EPA introduced a weak cap-and-trade rule, which would have allowed power plants to either reduce their own mercury pollution or buy pollution credits from other plants. In February 2008, a federal appeals court ruled that EPA’s approach to power plant mercury emissions violates the Clean Air Act, and vacated the EPA regulation.

The Environmental Integrity Project was established in March 2002 to advocate for more effective enforcement of environmental laws. The organization was founded by Eric Schaeffer, who served as director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement. Schaeffer resigned in 2002 after publicly expressing his frustration with efforts of the Bush administration to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other environmental laws.
http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/nov2008/2008-11-21-092.html

Know Where It’s Coming From

Each year power plants and other sources create tons of mercury pollution, which makes its way into our homes and bodies in fish.
Some of the sources of mercury pollution include metal smelting, chlorine chemical plants, cement plants, and coal-fired power plants. Power plants are the largest source, emitting around 50 tons of mercury pollution annually. Cement plants are the fourth largest emitter of airborne mercury in the United States, and facilities that recycle auto scrap are another big source of mercury pollution, historically pouring 10 to 12 tons of mercury into the air every year. Chlorine plants, which use massive quantities of mercury to extract chlorine from salt, “lose” mercury when mercury volatilizes during maintenance and other operational activities. The most common way Americans are exposed to mercury is through tuna fish.

Power Plants

Coal is naturally contaminated with mercury, and when it is burned to generate electricity, mercury is released into the air through the smokestacks. The bulk of this mercury pollution could be eliminated with the installation of pollution-control devices. Similar devices have proved very successful on municipal incinerators, which were once a significant source of mercury pollution.

In 2009, NRDC and several environmental allies achieved an enormous victory when the EPA settled a lawsuit to finalize a Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standard by November 2011, reducing all hazardous air pollutants, including mercury, from the nation’s coal- and oil-fired power plants. The revised standards will facilitate long-delayed efforts to clean up mercury emissions from roughly 1,100 coal-fired boilers at more than 460 electric power plants.
http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/sources.asp

Forms of mercury. Mercury is a naturally occurring element that is found in air, water and soil. It exists in several forms: elemental or metallic mercury, inorganic mercury compounds, and organic mercury compounds. More information

Sources of mercury. Mercury is an element in the earth’s crust. Humans cannot create or destroy mercury. Pure mercury is a liquid metal, sometimes referred to as quicksilver that volatizes readily. It has traditionally been used to make products like thermometers, switches, and some light bulbs.

Mercury is found in many rocks including coal. When coal is burned, mercury is released into the environment. Coal-burning power plants are the largest human-caused source of mercury emissions to the air in the United States, accounting for over 50 percent of all domestic human-caused mercury emissions (Source: 2005 National Emissions Inventory). EPA has estimated that about one quarter of U.S. emissions from coal-burning power plants are deposited within the contiguous U.S. and the remainder enters the global cycle. Burning hazardous wastes, producing chlorine, breaking mercury products, and spilling mercury, as well as the improper treatment and disposal of products or wastes containing mercury, can also release it into the environment. Current estimates are that less than half of all mercury deposition within the U.S. comes from U.S. sources. More information.

Sources of mercury compounds. In the U.S., mercury compounds are manufactured in small amounts for specialty uses, such as chemical and pharmaceutical applications. Larger quantities of these compounds are generated as byproducts from pollution control activities at gold mines or in waste. Elemental mercury is processed in the U.S. from byproduct mercury compounds, and an unknown quantity of mercury compounds is imported into the United States for conversion to elemental mercury. Learn more about mercury compounds (PDF). (123 pp, 738K, About PDF)

Exposure to mercury. Mercury in the air eventually settles into water or onto land where it can be washed into water. Once deposited, certain microorganisms can change it into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish. Fish and shellfish are the main sources of methylmercury exposure to humans. Methylmercury builds up more in some types of fish and shellfish than others. The levels of methylmercury in fish and shellfish depend on what they eat, how long they live and how high they are in the food chain.

EPA works with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and with states and tribes to issue advice to women who may become pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and parents of young children about how often they should eat certain types of commercially-caught fish and shellfish. Fish advisories are also issued for men, women, and children of all ages when appropriate. In addition, EPA releases an annual summary of information on locally-issued fish advisories and safe-eating guidelines to the public. Fish is a beneficial part of the diet, so EPA & FDA encourage people to continue to eat fish that are low in methylmercury. More information

Another less common exposure to mercury that can be a concern is breathing mercury vapor. These exposures can occur when elemental mercury or products that contain elemental mercury break and release mercury to the air, particularly in warm or poorly-ventilated indoor spaces. More information

Health effects of mercury. Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages. Research shows that most people’s fish consumption does not cause a health concern. However, it has been demonstrated that high levels of methylmercury in the bloodstream of unborn babies and young children may harm the developing nervous system, making the child less able to think and learn. More information

Ecological effects of mercury. Birds and mammals that eat fish are more exposed to mercury than other animals in water ecosystems. Similarly, predators that eat fish-eating animals may be highly exposed. At high levels of exposure, methylmercury’s harmful effects on these animals include death, reduced reproduction, slower growth and development, and abnormal behavior. More information

Reducing mercury releases. EPA issues regulations that require industry to reduce mercury releases to air and water and to properly treat and dispose of mercury wastes. In 2010, EPA is working to develop emissions standards for power plants under Clean Air Act section 112, consistent with the D.C. Circuit’s February 2008 opinion (PDF) (18pp, 51k, about PDF) regarding the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR). On October 6, 2009, EPA published a final rule that limits emissions, including emissions of mercury, from medical waste incinerators.

EPA works with partners in state, local and tribal governments to implement a variety of programs designed to reduce mercury pollution and impacts. Most of EPA’s environmental regulations and programs are implemented by the states. In addition, under U.S. environmental laws, the states are often permitted to adopt local environmental laws and regulations that are more stringent than federal requirements. As of 2005, twenty- two states were implementing or developing overall state-based mercury action plans. Many of the state plans include pollution reduction elements that exceed federal requirements. In particular, the states in the Great Lakes basin and northeast region have led efforts to identify and pursue ways to reduce and prevent mercury releases to the environment, both as individual states and in multi-state collaborations.

EPA also works with industry to promote voluntary reductions in mercury use and releases. In December 2008, EPA, the ADA and the NACWA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (PDF) (17 pp., 893K, about PDF) to establish a Voluntary Dental Amalgam Discharge Reduction Program. The goal of the program is for dentists to follow the ADA’s best management practices (BMPs) for amalgam waste.
EPA works with international organizations to prevent the release of mercury in other countries. EPA has provided expertise to the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO)’s Global Mercury Project’s small-scale gold (artisanal) mining project, which focuses on best management practices to reduce occupational exposures, emissions and mercury use. Learn more about EPA’s international activities,

The public can contribute to mercury reduction efforts by purchasing mercury-free products and correctly disposing of products that contain mercury. Learn more about consumer and commercial products that contain mercury.
http://www.epa.gov/hg/about.htm

WASHINGTON — Many of America’s coal-fired power plants lack widely available pollution controls for the highly toxic metal mercury, and mercury emissions recently increased at more than half of the country’s 50 largest mercury-emitting power plants, according to a report Wednesday.
The nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project reported that five of the 10 plants with the highest amount of mercury emitted are in Texas. Plants in Georgia, Missouri, Alabama, Pennsylvania and Michigan also are in the top 10.
The report, which used the most recent data available from the Environmental Protection Agency, found that mercury emissions increased at 27 of the top 50 plants from 2007 to 2008. Overall, power plant emissions of mercury decreased 4.7 percent in that timeframe, but that amount was far less than what would be possible with available emissions controls, the report said.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution, generating more than 40 percent of U.S. emissions. Mercury released into the air settles in rivers and lakes, where it moves through the food chain to the fish that people eat.
Mercury exposure can harm the brain development of infants and children. Each year more than 300,000 babies may have an increased risk of learning disabilities as a result of exposure to mercury before birth, the report said.
“Even though the technology exists today to dramatically reduce the mercury pollution, the U.S. power industry has delayed cleanup and barely made a dent in the power plant emissions,” said Ilan Levin, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes stronger enforcement of anti-pollution laws.
“Delay by both the EPA and the electric power industry is what has caused this,” he said.
Mercury emissions in some states have declined as power plants have added pollution controls for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter that have a side benefit of reducing mercury as well. Some of the pollution controls were added as a result of settlements of lawsuits seeking enforcement of federal and state regulations.
Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, an industry group of shareholder-owned utilities, said power plant operators were cooperating with the EPA by providing the data on the amount of mercury going out of their plants’ stacks. As plants are required to install controls for other pollutants, mercury emissions also are reduced, he said.
Some pollution controls that haven’t been fully tested yet will bring much greater reductions of mercury in the future, Riedinger said. “But the majority of the reductions will take place once EPA has determined the level of reductions that it thinks necessary.”
Since 1990, the EPA has been required under the Clean Air Act to impose controls on many forms of air pollution, including mercury. To date, however, there is still no national regulation to limit mercury pollution.
“Controlling mercury emissions is a high priority for EPA. The agency is in the process of developing a strategy to reduce these harmful emissions which threaten the air we breathe,” said spokeswoman Catherine C. Milbourne.
The EPA is working on a mercury reduction rule for power plants and has agreed in a court settlement to complete it by November 2011. The agency adopted a cap-and-trade scheme of tradable mercury emission allowances in 2005, but a federal court ruled that it didn’t comply with the clean air law and threw it out in 2008. The EPA also is working on regulations for mercury and other toxic air emissions from other sources, such as cement plants and industrial boilers.
U.S. power plants emitted 44.7 tons of mercury in 2008. The EPA had forecast in 2005 that it was possible to reduce mercury emissions to 15 tons per year under the Bush administration’s plan and the use of pollution controls aimed at reducing smog and soot. The new report said that stricter requirements could reduce it to five tons a year.
http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2010/03/17/90576/report-mercury-pollution-from.html

The Environmental Protection Agency released far-reaching air pollution regulations Wednesday, 21 years after they were first mandated by Congress and six days after they were signed by the agency.

The rules require coal- and oil-fired power plants to lower emissions of 84 different toxic chemicals to levels no higher than those emitted by the cleanest 12% of plants. Companies have three years to achieve the standards, and EPA has made clear a fourth year and perhaps even more time are also available to them.

“We’re delighted,” says Janice Nolen of the American Lung Association. “After waiting 21 years, it looks like we may actually have a rule that will help to save 11,000 lives a year and reduce exposure all across the country to a bunch of really toxic substances.”

“It’s hard to overstate the significance of this rule,” says John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. “This is a generational achievement that marks America cleaning up dirty power plants once and for all.”

The EPA rules govern multiple toxic substances, including mercury, arsenic, nickel, selenium and cyanide.

Power plants are responsible for half of the mercury and more than 75% of the acid gas emissions in the United States, the EPA says. The EPA estimates that about half the nation’s power plants already have pollution control technologies in place. This rule will “level the playing field” in the agency’s words, by ensuring that the rest, about 40% of all coal-fired plants, take similar steps.

By EPA estimates, the rules will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year, as well as preventing 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms.

Coal-fired burners are the main focus of the regulation, as oil-fired burners are less popular, given high oil prices. There are about 1,100 coal-fired burners being used at 600 power plants nationwide, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told USA TODAY. Currently, 12% of the nation’s coal-fired power plants already meet the standards, by definition. Another 48% have some if not all of the necessary technologies in place to meet the standards.

The remaining 40% “have done nothing, they have no controls, they emit unlimited amounts of pollutants, they have no technology in place,” Jackson says.

But the industry argues that the cost of meeting these rules could bring economic hardship.

American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity President and CEO Steve Miller said Wednesday that EPA “is out of touch with the hard reality facing American families and businesses. This latest rule will destroy jobs, raise the cost of energy and could even make electricity less reliable.”

EPA estimates that the cost of compliance will run approximately $9.6 billion per year. But the agency also estimates the yearly benefits will be between $37 billion and $90 billion, mostly due to fewer people falling ill and dying from pollution. The agency says “employment impacts associated with the final rule are estimated to be small,” but utilities disagree.

An analysis done for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity said Wednesday’s rule, combined with other pending EPA regulations, could cost an average of 183,000 jobs every year from 2012- 2020.

Lance Brown, executive director of the Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy, an industry group, says “numerous studies have shown it will result in the loss of more than one million jobs in the next decade.”

In terms of plant closures, an Associated Press analysis, which the coalition found to be credible, estimated that of the nation’s 600 coal-fired power plants, more than 32 would likely close because they would not be cost-effective to run under the new rules. AP also found that another 36 might close.

There was a furious eleventh-hour push by some utility groups in the past two weeks “to try to kill this, but in the end too many pieces of the power industry were saying, ‘We can do this,’ ” says Jim Pew of Earthjustice, a public interest law group.

Advertisements suggesting that the United States will experience power blackouts because of the new rules “are greatly overblown,” EPA’s Jackson says. Modeling done by EPA, Congress and the Department of Energy all suggest there’s no danger of that.

“This is just a scare tactic,” she says. Utilities are crassly “asking Americans to choose between mercury in their and their children’s bodies, and power.” That’s not what’s happening, Jackson says.

There’s nothing in the rule requiring these plants to be shut down, only that they need to be cleaned up, she says. Analysis has shown that these plants are, on average, 50 years old.

“It’s just like your car. You have to make a determination of how much you want to put into a clunker when it starts to see the end of its useful life. Companies will have to make business decisions,” Jackson says.
http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/story/2011-12-19/power-plants-mercury-rule/52142516/1

Snarkiness? I merely raised what I felt was the obvious point that your emotional appeal on the coal fired plants was missing some key information in helping any readers develop an informed opinion of the matter.

When I saw that you were a graduate of UK’s College of Law, well, I actually did find it humorous and perhaps a bit telling that someone intelligent enough to graduate with a law degree couldn’t put forward a reasoned, supported piece advancing their argument.

My goodness. “Crazy.” “Forgotten the basics of first year law school.” “Least knowlegable [sic].”

By the way, Thelma, it’s knowledgeable. You should probably run spellcheck before hurling your next batch of insults. I mean, what if I wrote, your response to my letter really makes you sound dumm. You wouldn’t take that too seriously now, would you?

Kathryn, there are no scrubbers on UK’s two central heating plants. That comes straight from the mouths of UK administration. (Oh, and they are heating plants dear, not power plants.)

And Nicholas, where are your facts to support such a sweeping statement that the cloud of smog is “steam”, “nothing more, nothing less”? Present those facts, as some have asked me to present mine. Otherwise, you’re just blowing steam.

Jordan and John, your snarkiness is always a pleasure. And I mean that. You two make me laugh. You are so caught up in tunnel-vision thinking that it really is just pure comic relief. Do you save the snarkiness for the more progressive, forward-thinking letters-to-the-editor or is it across the board?

It looks like I’ve touched a nerve with this letter. That’s a very good sign.

Hi Angela,
While your article touches the emotional aspects of the argument quite clearly, it completely ignores what I consider to be more important, the facts.
There are, in fact, scrubbers on the power plants around the UK campuses. I happen to live near both of them.
You say you are horrified by the prospect of living near power plants. What do you propose to replace them? I personally am a fan of nuclear power (which also has to be mined), but I feel many more would be horrified at having a nuclear plant on campus instead. Wind and solar are good ideas, but do not have the capability to provide the amount of electricity needed.
You also say that the cloud of smog “hovers at street level” and “can be seen for miles away.” Funny enough, I have never seen this. I urge you to travel to a country where polution controls such as the clean air act are not in place, such as India. Having returned from India 1 week ago, I can tell you your description of Lexington actually describes Delhi. There, it is not unusual to cough up black debris that gets into the air. Lexington doesn’t even compare.
Natural gas is another potential form of fuel, but like coal, it still is a fossil fuel.
Rather then complain about the coal plants without actually including facts, I invite you to learn about the industry and perhaps even work towards a cleaner energy future through productive means.
Kathryn Gardner

Thelma,
It is obvious you are a friends of coal employee. How much are they paying you??? I’m being sarcastic I just thought I would say it before Angela does

How come the least knowlegable people make the most noise !
No facts – just noise.
Coal is a resource in this state which must be cultivated. Otherwise we will be economically forced to do without, — unless all Kentuckians can produce as much wind as this Author.

John, I tried to resist…I really did, but Angela being a law school alumni, I was hoping she would present some sort of case against UK’s power plants. Some sort of facts or evidence to support her position. Like, how much coal do these plants burn? How much toxins are released? How were the toxin levels measured? (they were measured weren’t they??) what are the level of all these various toxins in the air now? What would they be with out the coal fired plants? What studies have been done showing the effects of coal plants on citizens? Any study on lexington residents?

Maybe if some of that info had been included in her piece, then she could have made an informed argument to persuade us. UK’s college of law is a rather well rated school. So either you have forgotten the basics of first year law school, or you know you have no case to stand on and are desperately hoping the fear mongering emotional appeal will make some headway.

Will people please not comment on this ladys article. Just look at the comments from the other article on the subject and you will see that there is no arguing with this lady. She is too crazy to even try to pursuade her otherwise.