Bogus Mercury Scare Used To Shutdown Coal Electricity Generating Plants

Before he was elected, President Obama said that he would bankrupt anyone who built a new coal-base power generation plant.  He planed to do this by enacting Cap and Trade legislation that would target coal-based facilities. Because coal-based plants emit more CO2 than do natural gas-based plant per kW of electricity, the CO2 tax levied on coal-based facilities would make them uneconomical to build and operate.  However a bill for his signature could not get out of Congress.  (A little discussion of the regulation of CO2 later.) The administration refocused their efforts to put coal out of business by issuing new regulations that reduced the amount of mercury and other air pollutants in coal plant emissions (CO2 was not included).   Mercury is clearly the poster child for these new regulations and that is obvious by the many press releases and stories in the media. According to the EPA, children exposed to the reduced mercury levels will be healthier and have higher IQs.

How solid is the contention that it will make our children healthier?   A posting by Willie Soon and Paul Driessen, titled “US: The myth of killer mercury” shows the EPA’s actions to not be based on good science:

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which actively monitors mercury exposure, blood mercury counts for US women and children decreased steadily 1999-2008, placing today’s counts well below the already excessively “safe” level established by EPA.

A 17-year evaluation of mercury risk to babies and children, by the Seychelles Children Development Study, found “no measurable cognitive or behavioral effects” in children who eat five to twelve servings of ocean fish every week, far more than most Americans do.

The World Health Organization and US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry assessed these findings in setting mercury risk standards that are 2-3 times less restrictive than EPA’s. Even under WHO and ATSDR guidelines, no American children are even remotely at risk from mercury.

EPA ignored these findings. Instead, the agency based its “safe” mercury criteria on a study of Faroe Islanders, whose diet is far removed from our own. They eat few fruits and vegetables, but do feast on pilot whale meat and blubber that is high in mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – but very low in selenium. The study is clearly irrelevant to this rulemaking.

Finally, EPA maintains that mercury deposition, its conversion to methylmercury, and MeHg accumulation in fish and humans is a simple process that can be controlled by curtailing emissions from US power plants. That is not correct. In fact, mercury emissions (from all sources) and raw mercury levels in fresh or ocean waters are only part of the story.

Complex, nonlinear interactions among at least 50 natural variables control the biological and chemical processes that govern elemental mercury conversion to methylmercury and MeHg accumulation in fish. Those variables, and selenium levels in fish tissue, are beyond anyone’s ability to control.

So clearly the EPA has grossly exaggerated the threat of mercury.

Another question that needs to be asked is how much mercury is released each year and how much of that comes from US coal-based plants.

Mercury Emissions – Natural and Man-Made

Source Emission Quantity, Mg/Year % of Total
Natural 5207 69
Manmade 2320 31
            TOTAL 7527 100
North American Coal Plants 65 0.9

 Data From Global mercury emissions to the atmosphere from anthropogenic and natural sources” Atmos. Chem. Phys., 10, 5951–5964, 2010 by N. Pirrone, S. Cinnirella, X. Feng, et al.

The mercury emissions total from the North American coal-based plants are less than one per cent of global emissions!!  So the effect on the health of people in the US through reduction of some fraction of the coal-based plants mercury emissions is essentially too small to measure.  However the effect of the increased cost of electricity will directly affect the health of the people in the US and especially the poorest among us.

See this posting by the Institute for Energy Research to get a sense of the loss of generating capacity that this EPA regulation will cause.

Willis Eshenbach developed two charts for his posting “The EPA’s Mecurial Madness” on the WUWT website.   They visually illustrate the futility of the EPA action to make any difference in mercury levels.

The EPA has more “kill coal-based power generation capacity” arrows in its quiver, and I plan to post on this soon.  As a preview, they are proposing a standard that will not permit the installation of new coal-based plants.


2 responses to “Bogus Mercury Scare Used To Shutdown Coal Electricity Generating Plants

  1. Your content really informative as well as helpful for my Electricity Generation Plants Projects Research and Development.

  2. Pingback: Can We Trust The EPA? Part I— Mercury | Climate Change Sanity

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