Clearing Colorado’s air of mercury pollution

Environment Colorado

DENVER, CO – Today, the Air Quality Control Commission voted unanimously to adopt new rules that will reduce mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants 90% by 2018.

The rules stem from a hard-fought agreement negotiated among environmental groups, public health officials, local governments, and utilities.

“Today, the state air commission voted to protect Colorado’s air and water,” said Will Coyne, Program Director of Environment Colorado. “Mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants poses a real threat to public health and the environment. The state air commission adopted a good plan to cut mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.”

Specifically, the new rules will do the following: 

• require two largest coal-fired power plants and emitters of mercury pollution, the Pawnee and Rawhide energy stations, to begin clean-up immediately and reduce mercury pollution 80% by 2012; 

• require all coal plants to reduce mercury pollution 80% by 2014, and then 90% by 2018; and 

• prevent coal-fired power plants in Colorado from selling mercury pollution “trading credits” to other polluters and encouraging mercury “hot spots” to stay polluted. 

“The new rules will ensure we begin cleaning-up the worst two mercury polluters immediately,” said Coyne.

Coal-fired power plants are the number one source of mercury pollution. This deadly neurotoxin can cause learning disabilities, reproductive problems, cardiovascular problems, nervous systems problems, and even death.

Mercury is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women as their babies are developing. According to the EPA, over 400,000 children are exposed in utero to mercury levels that exceed recommended limits.

Across Colorado, 14 lakes have fish consumption advisories warning that children and pregnant women not to eat fish from those lakes because of mercury pollution. Some of the waters affected included Berkeley Lake in Denver, Horsetooth Reservoir near Fort Collins, Purdy Reservoir near Grand Junction, McPhee Reservoir near Cortez, and Trinidad Reservoir.

Approximately 30% of all lakes sampled in Colorado exceed the EPA fish tissue standard for mercury. The U.S. Geological Survey found that power plant pollution is directly linked to elevated mercury levels.

“Parents shouldn’t have to worry about whether the fish caught in Colorado’s waters are safe for their children to eat,” said Coyne.

The new rules supplant a Bush Administration cap-and-trade proposal that would have allowed a temporary increase of mercury pollution in Colorado and failed to address mercury “hot spots.”