AUSTIN —Texas continues to "lead" the nation in mercury pollution, according to a new report that show Texas has six of the nation's top 10 mercury emitters, and the city of Austin and LCRA have one of the nation's top 50 emitters.
Luminant, formerly TXU and Texas's largest electric generator, holds down four spots on a "Dirty 50" list of mercury-polluting coal plants set out in an Environmental Integrity Project report released today by several environmental and public health advocacy groups.
EIP, Environment Texas, Sierra Club, the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, Public Citizen, and Texas Campaign for the Environment released the report showing that Texas holds down over half (six) of the 10 worst slots on the "Dirty 50" list of the toxic metal known to pose a risk to pregnant women and unborn children.
According to the new report available at http://www.environmentalintegrity.org, Luminant accounts for three of the 10 worst mercury-pollution plants in the U.S., including the Number 1 ranked Big Brown and Number 3 ranked Martin Lake.
Other utilities highlighted in the report include NRG Energy, Ameren and American Electric Power (AEP).
Ilan Levin, associate director, Environmental Integrity Project, said: "Texas is easily the worst state in the nation when it comes to toxic mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. In 2011, more than 20 years after Congress amended the Clean Air Act to require cleanup of toxic air pollution, this much is clear: EPA must put public health ahead of the political demands of dirty coal and require all power plants to meet modern, achievable pollution standards."
Tom "Smitty" Smith of Public Citizen said: "For decades, the electric power industry has delayed cleanup and lobbied against public health rules designed to reduce pollution. They have decided that it was cheaper to invest in politicians than pollution controls and we see the result here in Texas The technology and pollution control equipment necessary to reduce emissions of mercury and other dangerous air toxics are widely available and are working at some power plants across the country. There is no reason for Americans -- and Texans in particular -- to continue to live with risks to their health and to the environment."
Karen Hadden, director, Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, said: "The coal-fired power plants that generate electricity to power our homes, businesses, and factories are also the single largest source of toxic mercury air pollution in Texas and the rest of the United States. Besides mercury, coal-fired power plants emit a suite of other toxic air pollutants, including lead, arsenic, chromium, and selenium. Exposure to these toxics can cause serious health effects, especially for children and developing fetuses. Exposure to mercury and other air toxics emitted from coal-fired power plants can cause serious health impacts such as permanent brain damage, cancer, damage to the liver, kidney, and the circulatory system, respiratory effects including a type of asthma specific to nickel, decreased lung function, and bronchitis. Studies by the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio have found correlations between high levels of mercury
emissions and kids with autism in schools."
While the new EIP report notes some improvement in overall national mercury pollution levels, it notes (1) such pollution is still well above the levels to which it could have been reduced a decade ago and (2) technology already exists to achieve significantly lower mercury emissions. The report also points out how the delayed EPA power plant air toxics regulation has denied the public promised mercury reductions.
On November 17th the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) staff will be holding hearings on proposed rules that implement legislation passed last session that will limit public participation in hearings on air permits for mercury and other toxics. The legislature ordered the TCEQ to fast track these hearings, but the TCEQ has some leeway on the rules.
"Now is not the time to undermine the process for protecting the public health in Texas," said Jen Powis, senior regional representative, Sierra Club. "No one disputes that mercury is toxic. Rather than provide coal plants with a fast tracked process that undermines the alleged impartiality of the commissioners, Chairman Shaw should strengthen the process, ensuring that all the people have a fair and just way to bring their legitimate concerns in front of their state government."
"Parents in Texas shouldn't have to worry that their children's bodies are toxic dumping grounds," said Luke Metzger, director, Environment Texas. "The Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward to protect our children's health from toxic mercury pollution, and we can't let big polluters stand in the way."
Stacy Guidry, Texas Campaign director, Environment's Austin office, said: "The City of Austin has a ‘green' reputation, but our very own Fayette Power Plant is right up there among the dirtiest - number 49 out of more than 450 coal fired power plants nationwide, in terms of sheer pounds of mercury emitted into the air. In 2010, the Fayette power plant, owned by the Lower Colorado River Authority and Austin Energy, reported spewing 360 pounds of mercury out of the smokestacks. Airborne mercury falls to the ground and contaminates water and soil. Austin can do better than that; that's not very green."
OTHER KEY TEXAS-RELATED FINDINGS
The EIP report also notes:
* Texas is by far the nation's top power plant mercury air polluter. Texas coal-fired power plants emitted 16.9 percent of the total U.S. mercury air emissions for 2010, and Texas is home to 11 of the top 50 mercury emitters in the nation. These top polluters include coal-fired power plants owned by Luminant (formerly TXU), NRG Energy, American Electric Power (AEP), the City of San Antonio, San Miguel Electric Cooperative, and the Lower Colorado River Authority and the City of Austin.
* Texas-based Luminant operates the dirtiest power plant in the nation in terms of mercury emissions: Big Brown, located about halfway between Houston and Dallas. Three of Luminant's other large coal-fired power plants are also ranked among the top 50 dirtiest power plants in the nation: Martin Lake (number 3), Monticello (number 7), and Sandow 4 (a single coal-fired boiler ranked number 28). In total, Luminant's coal-fired power plants emitted 4,788 pounds of mercury or 7.25 percent of all power plant mercury emissions nationwide in 2010. The company's newly built Oak Grove power plant plus a newly built unit at the Sandow plant will add even more mercury emissions in the future.
* Columbus, Ohio-based AEP operates six of the nation's top 50 power plant mercury emitters. These six plants, located in Texas, Ohio, and West Virginia, emitted 3,760 pounds of mercury into the air in 2010.
* Ameren's Labadie Energy Center, in Missouri, is the second-highest ranked power plant mercury air polluter in the nation. This large coal-fired power plant has emitted more than six tons of toxic mercury into the air since 2000, nearly a third of all mercury emissions from the entire state of Missouri over that same period of time. In 2010, out of the 18 coal-fired power plants operating in the state, the Labadie power plant was responsible for nearly 40 percent of all mercury air emissions.
* New Jersey-based NRG Energy, Inc. owns three of the top 10 dirtiest power plant mercury emitters in the nation: the Limestone plant located between Houston and Dallas (number 4), Big Cajun located in Louisiana (number 8), and the Parish power plant just outside Houston (number 10).
The EIP report is based on emissions data self-reported by the electric power industry to the U.S. EPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), and accessible to the public at http://www.epa.gov/tri/. All data is based on 2010 annual reported emissions, the most recent data available, from a total of 452 electric utilities across the United States, including Puerto Rico. The data in this report was last updated by EPA on September 26, 2011. The majority of the 452 power plants that reported mercury emissions in 2010 are traditional coal-fired power plants, although some plants also burn petroleum coke (a byproduct of oil refining) or coal waste products. In total, these 452 power plants reported a combined 66,000 pounds, or 33 tons, of mercury air emissions released into the atmosphere in 2010.
The Environmental Integrity Project (http://www.environmentalintegrity.org) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization established in March of 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to advocate for effective enforcement of environmental laws. EIP has three goals: 1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; 2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and 3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws..