Friday, November 11, 2005

Mercury cap decision held for EPA ruling

Express Staff Writer

A decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to review rules pertaining to mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants has led the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to postpone a recommendation to the state board on the matter.

The DEQ had opened up a public comment period on whether the state should opt in to the federal "cap and trade" program that seeks to decrease mercury emissions from commercial coal-fired power plants nationwide.

The DEQ received by the Oct. 26 deadline more than 600 comments, the majority of which were against opting in to the cap and trade program, said Martin Bauer, administrator for the Air Quality Division of the Idaho DEQ. All but a few came from Magic Valley and Blaine County residents, he said.

DEQ staff had planned to make a recommendation to the Board of Environmental Quality on Nov. 16.

"If we incorporated changes, we'd have to change it again," Bauer said. "We'll wait for the EPA's determination. Once they do that the DEQ will review the rule, then we'll go through the process from the beginning."

The EPA announced last week that it had granted requests for reconsideration from 14 states, five environmental groups, a public utility and a waste services association.

Questions that arose included how the mercury limits were established and why the rules applied only to coal-fired power plants.

Idaho has a zero cap for mercury emissions, which in practice could prevent a coal-fired power plant from operating because the plant wouldn't be able to operate without any mercury emissions.

If the state opted to participate in the cap and trade program, it would allow coal-fired power plants that want to operate in Idaho to buy pollution credits from plants that have reduced their mercury emissions.

Local officials submitted to the Idaho DEQ last month a letter stating their opposition to participating in the cap and trade program.

"We strongly oppose the state of Idaho joining the federal cap and trade mercury emissions program for coal-fired power plants and ask that the state of Idaho and its representatives unequivocally reject and disallow any increased mercury emissions which could be allowed through the cap and trade program," the letter reads.

Signatories were Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson, Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant, Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon, Bellevue Mayor Jon Anderson, Carey Mayor Rick Baird, and Blaine County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Michael.

Although the majority of comments submitted to the DEQ were against opting in to the program, the EPA could issue a mandate that would give Idaho a higher cap, among other possibilities.

"The EPA's decision could be, 'We reconsidered it but we didn't change anything,'" Bauer said. "Or, 'We reconsidered it and we rewrote the rule.' The EPA through this process could say we could be allotted (a higher cap). I don't know that they will, but it's an option."

The zero emissions cap for Idaho, and two other states and Washington, D.C., is based on the number of existing commercial coal-fired power plants, which in Idaho's case is zero.

San Diego-based Sempra Generation, operating in Idaho under the special-purpose subsidiary Idaho Valley LLC, wants to build a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Jerome County. They are in the initial stages of the permitting process.

Comments on the federal cap and trade rule can be sent to the EPA.

"Right now, that's where they'll be most effective," Bauer said.

Bauer said it's difficult to know how long the review process will take.

"I've seen it go really short—a couple of weeks—to a couple of years," he said.

The EPA prefers comments be submitted online at

Written comments may be submitted to: Air and Radiation Docket and Information Center, U.S. EPA, Mailcode 6102T, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C., 20460. Comments can also be sent via fax at (202) 566-1741, or by e-mail to

Identify comments by Docket ID Number OAR-2002-0056 (Legacy Docket No. A-92-55).

For more information on the rule and how to comment, go to: Click on Docket No. 58-0101-0505, Proposed Rule. Under "related links," click on Federal Register: Pages 62200-62213.

Comments must be received on or before Dec. 19.

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