DEQ plans tougher rules for emissions at PGE coal plant

DEQ plans tougher rules for emissions at PGE coal plant

Tuesday, August 22nd 2006

Environmentalists backing tighter and possible costlier controls on toxic mercury emissions from the Portland General Electric coal-fired power plant near Boardman oppose credits for limiting mercury output that PGE could sell to other power plants.

Conservation groups contend that selling the credits would let PGE make money from controlling pollution that it should be cutting back anyway.

They also argue that trading credits merely shifts the mercury release from plants that clean up their act to others that don’t, putting neighbors of the dirtier plants at risk.

But selling the credits would help offset the costs of installing mercury control equipment at the plant, so PGE would not have to pass along the full costs to customers, said Stephen Quennoz, PGE’s vice president of power supply, at a public hearing last week.

Some states prohibit their power plants from credit-trading. But the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is proposing to allow participation by the Boardman plant, Oregon’s only coal-burning plant.

The DEQ is devising new rules for PGE’s Boardman plant under a nationwide program to reduce mercury emissions from power plants. The agency toughened its proposal after a public outcry that its first approach was too weak.

The DEQ has proposed requiring PGE to reduce mercury emissions from its plant by 90 percent six years from now, one of the toughest control strategies proposed by a Western state.

Mercury is a poisonous metal that drifts long distances in the atmosphere before rain deposits it in rivers and lakes, where it enters the food chain. Eating contaminated fish can cause developmental delays and other harmful effects, especially in young children.

Much of the mercury that ends up in Oregon arrives from distant sources such as power plants in China. So cutting mercury pollution in Oregon will not sharply reduce the amount of mercury that ends up here, scientists say.

Many of those testifying at a public hearing last week said the state has an obligation to reduce mercury coming from Oregon, no matter where it ends up.

The Boardman coal plant is the second-largest industrial source of airborne mercury in Oregon. The largest is a cement plant in the Eastern Oregon town of Durkee that has no mercury controls. Mercury also comes from natural sources such as forest fires.

Information from: The Oregonian,

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