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PA Hosts Hearing on Cutting Mercury Pollution from Power Plants

May 23, 2011

PHILADELPHIA - The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hear from Pennsylvanians this week about a new proposal to drastically reduce the amount of mercury and other toxic air pollutants emitted by coal- and oil-fired power plants.

Ed Perry is Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. As an avid fisherman, he says he has cast his line in lakes and rivers all over the country, but he won't eat fish from the Susquehanna River in his own backyard. He says advisories about mercury levels in the waters are enough to keep his angling there strictly "catch-and-release."

Perry calls the EPA plan "a small miracle."

"'Big Coal' and its allies in Congress have been fighting against mercury regulations for decades. Now, for the first time, it looks like we may actually be able to get a mercury regulation in place."

Mercury pollution, from not only Pennsylvania coal plants but from others to the west, is taking a major toll on state waterways, Perry says. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has 82 streams and lakes on its mercury contamination list this year, he adds.

"That doesn't sound like very much, until you realize we're talking about over 1,000 miles of streams and thousands of acres of lakes that are contaminated with mercury."

For Perry, the new EPA blueprint offers hope that some day he can change his strict personal rules about fishing Pennsylvania's largest river.

"Once the contamination is eliminated, I am confident that, in years to come, I'll be able to take my grandson fishing, and he'll be able to catch fish that he can actually bring home and eat."

The nation's leading electric industry trade group, the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, says the new regulation on toxic pollution from power plants is too expensive. About half of the coal-burning power operations in the U.S. would have to retrofit their plants, at an estimated cost of $10 billion a year, by 2016.

Tuesday's hearing is at the Westin Philadelphia, 99 South 17th St. at Liberty Place.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA