Governor Mitt Romney today unveiled proposed regulations that will require the state’s oldest power plants to significantly reduce mercury emissions, putting Massachusetts in the forefront of reducing air pollution.
“Massachusetts has been a national leader in the effort to clean up our oldest and dirtiest power plants,” said Romney. “The implementation of these new mercury standards, coupled with major reductions in other air pollutants now underway, will ensure that the citizens of the Commonwealth will breathe the cleanest air possible.”
Under Romney’s direction, the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs (EOEA) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have proposed a two-phase mercury emissions standard. The first phase requires facilities to capture 85 percent of the mercury contained in combusted coal by October 1, 2006. The second phase requires facilities to capture 95 percent of the mercury by October 1, 2012. In total, the regulations will cut mercury emissions by over 130 pounds per year.
The new regulations are based on a mercury feasibility report, which was released last year using data from power plant smoke stack tests and other research. The report indicated that it is technologically and economically feasible to remove 90 percent or more of mercury in flue gas.
The regulations will apply to four coal-fired power plants: Brayton Point Station in Somerset; Salem Harbor Station; Mount Tom Station in Holyoke; and Somerset Station. The two other facilities affected by the state’s comprehensive air pollution regulations – Mystic Station in Everett and Canal Electric in Sandwich – operate on oil or natural gas, not coal.
The stringent mercury regulations are part of the Commonwealth’s toughest-in-the-nation clean-air rules requiring reductions in the pollutants that cause or contribute to the formation of acid rain, smog, regional haze, mercury deposition and global climate change. Those rules require the state’s oldest power plants to significantly reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx), carbon dioxide (CO2) and mercury. Recently, Massachusetts has also required municipal waste combustors to cut their mercury emissions by 90 percent or more and the state has aggressively advocated for increased recycling of mercury products.
Romney noted that mercury emissions in Massachusetts have been reduced by over 60 percent in the last five years. He said, “Our comprehensive mercury reduction efforts are a major step towards eliminating mercury pollution and will have a positive effect on the environment and public health for many years.”
As a result of widespread mercury contamination, state health officials previously issued a statewide advisory warning pregnant women, nursing mothers of reproductive age and children under 12 not to consume any fish caught in fresh water bodies in Massachusetts due to health risk. More recently, the advisory was expanded to include certain marine species, including tuna and mackerel. Exposure to mercury can cause neurological and developmental effects in children. Air pollution has also contributed to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
The mercury regulations will also allow a facility to apply for an “alternative reduction plan” for off-site mercury reductions to provide initial flexibility during the time when the plants will be testing newly installed SO2 and NOx controls. Those controls are expected to provide mercury reduction co-benefits, which could preclude the need for additional mercury controls.
DEP will sponsor public hearings on the new mercury regulations in early to mid-November at sites near the four coal-fired plants in Somerset, Salem and Holyoke. The public is invited to attend and comment on the mercury regulations in preparation for the issuance of final regulations.
The proposed mercury regulations are available at www.mass.gov/dep/bwp/daqc/daqcpubs.htm#regs