Continuing New Hampshire's tradition of protecting the state's environment through commonsense policies, U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) announced today that she voted against a Senate measure that would weaken national Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants aimed at reducing emissions of toxic air pollutants such as mercury, arsenic and metals. The Senate voted 46-53 against a "resolution of disapproval" of the MATS rule, which would require coal-fired power plants to reduce uncontrolled mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2015.
Coal-fired power plants have been on notice for more than a decade that tighter federal mercury emissions limits are in the works. A December 2000 regulatory finding by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concluded that regulation of mercury from power plants under the Clean Air Act was appropriate and necessary, and it initiated the rulemaking process. EPA unveiled its initial mercury rule in 2005. Eleven states filed suit challenging it - including New Hampshire, under-then Attorney General Kelly Ayotte. In March 2011 EPA proposed a revised rule - frequently known as Utility MACT - and it was finalized in December 2011.
"Despite efforts in New Hampshire to reduce harmful mercury pollution from in-state sources, toxic emissions transported in the air from out-of-state continue to contaminate our environment. Without a national mercury standard, New Hampshire will not be able to fully achieve the necessary reductions to protect children and our air and water from mercury contamination," said Senator Ayotte, who noted that technology already exists to reduce mercury emissions. "Clean air and clean water are critical to New Hampshire's economy and our quality of life. To protect the health of Granite State residents and our environment from mercury and other harmful air pollutants, I'm voting against the effort to stop this rule."
She continued: "All EPA regulations need to be carefully evaluated on a case-by-case basis to determine their impact on the environment and on the economy. In the Senate, I will continue to take a commonsense approach to responsible environmental protection."
Eric Orff, a retired state wildlife biologist from Epsom, said: "New Hampshire's fish and wildlife, along with our people, sure need Senator Ayotte to keep working to clean up air pollution. As a wildlife biologist for close to four decades in New Hampshire, I have seen firsthand the results of air pollution on the Granite State's wild treasures. Recent test results show that 25 percent of the freshwater fish tested for mercury had high levels, such that women of childbearing age and young children would be at risk from eating them. And it is not just our fish that are impacted by this toxic pollution - so too are our mink, river otter, loons, and even bats and small birds, according to a recent study. Senator Ayotte led the fight against mercury in New Hampshire as an attorney general. Thanks in part to her efforts, New Hampshire's largest mercury emitter now is reducing mercury pollution some 98 percent. We have the technology to rid our air of this pollution, while creating good jobs. Now it is time to lead the national effort to reduce this toxic pollution."
New Hampshire law, enacted in 2006, requires at least an 80% reduction in mercury emissions from New Hampshire power plants by 2013. PSNH's Merrimack Station in Bow has already installed a new scrubber to reduce mercury emissions.
When Ayotte served as New Hampshire's attorney general, the state sued the EPA over mercury emissions standards. In March 2005, New Hampshire filed a lawsuit against EPA for reversing a 2000 EPA decision that would have required strict plant-by-plant limits based on best available technology. In May 2005, New Hampshire was one of eleven states jointly filing a lawsuit challenging a federal rule that would establish a "cap and trade" system to regulate mercury emissions from power plants - an approach that the state contended could result in "hot spots" of mercury.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can harm health at very low concentrations - the principal effects being delayed development, neurological defects, and lower IQ in fetuses and children. Mercury enters water bodies, often through air emissions, and is taken up through the food chain, ultimately affecting humans as a result of fish consumption. Coal-fired electric generating units account for about half of U.S. mercury emissions.
Congress authorized mercury standards as part of the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments, and EPA made a preliminary determination and began developing actual standards in 2000.