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Rockport plant one of 50 worst for mercury emissions

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American Electric Power facility ranks 16th to 41st

By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

ROCKPORT – The American Electric Power plant at Rockport ranked between 16th and 41st in three lists of the top 50 worst emitters of mercury in the nation, according to a Nov. 20 news release from the Environmental Integrity Project.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit organization feels the neurotoxin, which causes impaired neurological development in fetuses, infants and children, should not be emitted at all.

“Even though mercury removal is achievable, (the federal Environmental Protection Agency) has backed away from strict power plant mercury regulation,” the EIP reported in its news release. “In 2005, instead of requiring power plant mercury reductions, EPA opted for a weak cap-and-trade scheme 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 violates the Clean Air Act, and vacated (i.e., threw out in its entirety) EPA’s lax regulation.”

The EIP was established in 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for more effective enforcement of environmental laws, according to information posted at its Web site. Founder Eric Schaeffer resigned in 2002 as director of the EPA’s Office of Regulatory Enforcement after publicly expressing his frustration with efforts of the Bush administration to weaken enforcement of the Clean Air Act and other laws.

In last week’s news release, the EIP named Indiana as one of its “Dirty Dozen” states having the most plants generating the highest mercury emissions. Sharing the designation are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

“Despite some improvements at specific plants, (the) overall mercury-pollution situation is worse,” the agency reported.

The EPA boasts at it Web site that it issued in 2005 “the first-ever federal rule to permanently cap and reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants,” noting, “this rule makes the United States the first country in the world to regulate mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.”

Ilan Levin, senior attorney in the Environmental Integrity Project’s Austin, Texas office, said that rule was late to arrive.

“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,” he noted. “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.  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 Rockport plant is one of five American Electric Power facilities on EIP’s list of the top 50 mercury emitters, and released 861 pounds of mercury in 2007. Other AEP plants ranked on the list by amounts released are in Texas, Ohio and West Virginia.

AEP’s Rockport plant showed a 13.81-percent decrease in mercury emissions from the previous year, according to the EIP. The agency rates the power plants both in terms of sheer mercury pollution and mercury pollution per kilowatt.

In separate lists broken down by emissions per billion Btu and gigawatt-hour of electricity produced, the Spencer County plant’s rankings fell to 37th and 41st, respectively.

Melissa McHenry in AEP’s Corporate Media Relations Office said Nov. 24 the decrease in Rockport’s emissions were attributable only to reduced production, but the company is installing equipment to reduce emissions.

An ammonia-injection system to be installed next summer will bring a 40-percent cut, she said, with further reductions to come with other modifications planned for the 2017 to 2019 time frame.

McHenry also said the Rockport plant’s 41st-place listing in the pounds-per-gigawatt-hour category “shows that it’s a very efficiently operating plant for each unit of electricity produced.”

The EIP report discusses ways in which mercury removal is achievable, reporting that “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 — and better when coupled with a fabric filter for particulate control — on both bituminous and sub-bituminous coals. In addition, mercury can be significantly reduced as a (side benefit) of controls for other pollutants, such as fabric filters, sulfur-dioxide scrubbers, and selective catalytic reduction.”