Will we see national mercury standards for power plants?
In 2006, under Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota enacted a state standard to reduce mercury pollution from the three largest coal plants in the state by 90 percent by 2014. Five years later, the attack on the Clean Air Act nationally has become bitterly partisan losing sight of the bipartisan, broad-based support there is for cleaning up mercury in our environment. With recent delays on other clean air act standards, the question of whether or not President Obama will carry the first ever national mercury and air toxics standards for power plants and other industrial boilers over the finish line looms.
Power plants are currently allowed to spew mercury pollution without national limits. Dirty coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States, emitting more than 130,000 pounds of toxic mercury pollution in 2009 alone. To put that in context, one million average-size northern pike from northern Minnesota lakes would contain just a pound of mercury altogether, yet the concentration in each fish would be high enough to call for limits on eating them.
The problem with mercury in our water and fish is that exposure to mercury has been linked to developmental disorders and learning disabilities (and mercury poisoning in rare cases.) According to the EPA, at least 1 in 12 – and as many as 1 in 6 – American women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their bodies to put their baby at risk. This summer, the Sierra Club offered mercury hair tests in Minnesota and found mercury in all 70 people tested – with 9 people testing higher than the federal guidelines for children and women of childbearing age.
It’s not just people who are at risk from mercury pollution. Fish are the main source of food for many birds and other animals. Minnesota loons and walleyes are accumulating so much mercury that it may be affecting their ability to reproduce.
Sierra Club supporters around the state have joined over 825,000 other Americans in asking EPA to finalize the first ever national standards on mercury. You can read some of their personal stories here.