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Democrats Support Destructive Limits on America’s Energy Sector
May 16, 2007

At today's EPW Committee hearing today, Senate Democrats expressed support for reducing mercury emissions from every power plant by 90 percent. Proponents of this approach generally claim that each power plant should be able to reduce mercury emissions by at least 90 percent, even though this level of reduction is not currently achievable and control technology vendors refuse to guarantee the performance of mercury removal technologies at these stringent levels.

FACT: According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), setting a 90% reduction mandate on mercury would cost up to $358 billion. A 90 percent reduction would result in fuel switching away from coal, which is our most abundant and least costly energy source, to natural gas. Increased reliance on natural gas for electricity generation will further increase prices, seriously impacting the ability of businesses to compete in the global marketplace and of families to pay their utility bills.

Further, like many other pollutants, mercury levels have also come down dramatically. Numerous industries that used to emit high levels of mercury, such as the municipal waste incinerators, have been controlled. The power sector industry is merely the latest industry to be regulated. And the regulations are significant – President Bush’s Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) will reduce power plant mercury emissions by 70 percent. And because the rule acts in coordination with CAMR– which reduces SO2, NOx, and particulate matter – it can be done for $2 billion.

That’s right – cutting 70% will cost $2 billion, but incrementally increasing that amount to beyond what the technologies can reliably do would cost up to $358 billion.

Finally, draconian mercury mandates fail to address the mercury emissions from outside of the United States. According to the EPA, Asia is responsible for 53 percent of mercury emissions worldwide, and that U.S. power plants contribute only about 1 percent of the mercury in the oceans.  In fact, according to EPA, U.S. emissions of mercury were reduced by nearly half, from 1990 to 1999.  While we have made great progress in reducing these emissions, they have been offset by increases in emissions from Asia, particularly China.

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