Alexander Urges Bredesen to Exceed Federal Restrictions on Mercury Pollution in Tennessee

Study: Toxin Tends to Settle Near Coal-Fired Power Plants

Posted on May 29, 2007

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today urged Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen to establish state rules that exceed federal rules curtailing mercury pollution in Tennessee from coal-fired power plants. “The more I learn, the more strongly I feel that the State of Tennessee should establish a stricter rule than the federal government’s limit on the amount of mercury coal-fired power plants can emit,” Alexander stated in a letter to the Governor released today. “There is good reason to believe that significant levels of mercury are being deposited in the Smokies and surrounding areas because they are downwind of coal-fired power plants.” Alexander said a recent study in Ohio showed that mercury emitted from a power plant stack “hits and sticks” within a relatively short distance. “Grocery stores in America now post warnings from the Food and Drug Administration stating women of child bearing age and children should not eat certain types of fish because of potential high levels of mercury,” Alexander said. Sen. Alexander said state action is necessary because the national mercury rule requiring coal-fired power plants to get rid of 70 percent mercury emissions by 2018 does not go far enough and legislation he has introduced with Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman to remove 90 per cent of mercury emissions by 2015 has not yet been enacted. Alexander’s letter is a follow-up to a letter he sent to the governor last fall commending his efforts to examine the impact mercury emissions may be having in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In his letter, Alexander praised the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the EPA, the National Park Service, TVA and Oak Ridge National Laboratory for studying the source and levels of mercury deposits in the Smokies. Alexander sits on the Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee and is a co-chair of the Congressional TVA Caucus. May 29, 2007 The Honorable Phil Bredesen Governor State of Tennessee 7th and Charlotte Avenues Nashville, TN 37243 Dear Phil, Last November, I wrote to commend your efforts to examine the impact mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants may be having in and around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I am writing again to reiterate that the more I learn, the more strongly I feel that the State of Tennessee should establish a stricter rule than the federal government’s limit on the amount of mercury coal-fired power plants can emit. There is good reason to believe that significant levels of mercury are being deposited in the Smokies and surrounding areas because they are downwind of coal-fired power plants. That is why I have introduced legislation that would require coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2015, but that legislation is not yet federal law. The mercury rule issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would require coal-fired power plants to get rid of 70 percent of the mercury they emit by the year 2018. This mercury rule is the first time the federal government has ever limited mercury from coal-fired power plants and is a good start. But it is not enough. Grocery stores in America now post warnings from the Food and Drug Administration stating that women of child bearing age and children should not eat certain types of fish because of potential high levels of mercury. I am glad to learn that Tennessee’s Department of Environment and Conservation is working with EPA, the National Park Service, TVA, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and conservation groups to study how much mercury is being deposited in the Smokies and from where it is coming. I understand that Dr. James Weiner of the University of Wisconsin, an expert on the effects of mercury on wildlife, and Dr. Gerald Keeler of the University of Michigan, an expert on mercury deposition and its sources, have been asked to design the study. Recently, I met with Dr. Keeler in my Washington office. He explained the results from his three-year study of mercury deposition in Steubenville, Ohio. His study shows that more than 70 percent of the mercury found at the study site comes from nearby coal-fired power plants. His research demonstrates that mercury emitted from a power plant stack “hits and sticks” within a relatively short distance of the power plant. Dr. Keeler advised that, based on the Steubenville results, significant deposits of mercury in the Smokies and the surrounding areas are likely because they are downwind of coal-fired power plants. The people and natural resources of Tennessee are facing a significant problem from coal-fired power plant mercury emissions, and the federal mercury rule is inadequate to address that problem. I commend you for the steps you have taken so far and encourage you to initiate the study. Sincerely, Lamar Alexander U.S. Senator # # #