New air emission regulations coming
There?s talk the new Republican Congress will repeal the Clean Air Act (CAA) or maybe just repeal Phase 2. In early March, the House passed a bill that attacks the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop new regulations to enforce the CAA and similar laws. If enacted this bill would freeze all new regulations until a new cost/benefit standard for regulations was put into place.
I wonder if environmental momentum can be stopped that easily. New, tough federal air emission controls are heading our way in the near future, despite the new regime. These are controls that potentially go much further than the SO2, NOx and particulate emission regulations that power generators have dealt with in the past.
Focus of the new effort is a class of emissions called air toxics or hazardous air pollutants. The 1990 CAA requires EPA to study 189 elements and chemical compounds contained in power plant air emissions in trace amounts, some near the limits of detection. A special study on mercury was also mandated. EPA was told to determine if there are negative health effects from these emissions, if regulations are necessary, and, if so, to put them in place.
The mercury report is due this summer. A draft version is circulating around Washington and the word is out that mercury emission limits may be imposed on power plants. The study turned up no serious health effects from mercury in the environment but, as one EPA staffer put it recently, mercury is a Ohot button.O The lack of any serious health effects identified in the $500 million acid rain study did not stop that bandwagon.
Power plants are not the primary source of mercury in the environment. The EPA study shows that the major source is municipal trash incinerators. People are throwing away mercury thermometers, fluorescent lighting ballasts containing mercury and miscellaneous mercury-containing items such as lightup sneakers with mercury switches. Power plants aren?t even number two. That spot is held by medical waste. Power plants are the third major source, accounting for approximately 20 percent of mercury emissions. Source is trace amounts of mercury present in some coal types which become part of the air emission. Some studies have shown that wet scrubbers remove most of the power plant mercury, but EPA doesn?t accept that as a proven control measure, at least not yet.
The larger air toxics study is due in November. By the end of the year we?ll have a better idea as to where we stand on these so-called hazardous air pollutants. While we talk about lightening the load, new and heavy regulations are heading our way. We?d better be ready for them.