This was written by Executive Councilor Ray Burton:
EPA Clean Air Mercury Standard Good for North Country Economy
More than ever, improving the North Country economy is one of my top priorities. While there is no silver bullet, we do have silver buckshot. We can enhance our pristine outdoor environment for residents and visitors and we can replace job-draining oil and propane imports with job-creating, locally-produced wind, wood, and energy efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency’s new Mercury air pollution standard will help us achieve both.
The greatest remaining form of unregulated air pollution is Mercury – along with arsenic, chromium, nickel, and other toxic gases – released directly into the atmosphere largely by 400 old, coal-fired power plants located in states upwind from New Hampshire. Mercury and these air toxics cause cancer, neurological damage such as reduced IQ, heart disease, asthma attacks, and premature death.
There is also an issue of fairness here. Coal utilities wanting a free pass on their air pollution have been able to block the national Mercury standard for two decades. So, seventeen states have adopted their own power plant Mercury standards, New Hampshire being first to do so in 2002. In response, Public Service Company of New Hampshire created hundreds of construction jobs installing a pollution scrubber on its Merrimack Station coal plant. While we’ve cleaned up our act, air pollution continues to blow into our state from Midwest power plants. This is why we need a national Mercury standard.
Mercury from these coal plants has polluted all of New Hampshire’s land and fresh water bodies and harmed New Hampshire wildlife dependent upon them. A new study finds that mercury in a wide-ranging number of birds and bats is high enough to cause physiological and reproductive harm. One-quarter of freshwater fish tested for mercury had levels so high that eating them would pose a health risk to women of childbearing age and young children. Fish consumption advisories now apply to all NH fresh water bodies. These old coal plants also belch out smog and microscopic particles that make Coos County air unhealthy to breathe during over ten days each year.
Way back in 1990, Congress knew about these issues and ordered EPA to regulate Mercury and air toxics. Finally in December, after twenty years of delay, EPA released the mercury and air toxics air pollution standard. This new standard will eliminate 90 percent of power plant mercury air pollution, preventing as many as 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks, 4,700 heart attacks, and 540,000 lost days of work due to illness each year. By 2016, the Mercury standard will generate health benefits of between $37 billion and $90 billion each year, delivering $3-$9 in health benefits for every dollar spent to reduce pollution.
The Mercury standard will not reduce the reliability of our electric system. It gives utilities sufficient time to comply by installing cost-effective pollution controls already being used by the best performing power plants. Power from uneconomic coal plants can be replaced with excess capacity from natural gas plants that are currently being run at less than full capacity. Longer term – and here is where economic and jobs benefits for the North Country are created – greater use of energy efficiency and clean wind and wood power can affordably replace old coal plants.
Unfortunately, the new national Mercury clean air standard has come under harsh attack in Congress, with more attacks in the works. Please thank Senator Kelly Ayotte, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, and Congressman Charlie Bass for standing up for New Hampshire and voting to defend the national Mercury standard. We should encourage Congressman Frank Guinta to join the fight for healthier air and clean energy jobs in New Hampshire.