Lake Erie receives the most mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants of the five Great Lakes, according to a report released Wednesday by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental watchdog.
Coal-fired power plants are responsible for 50 percent of emissions of mercury — a toxic substance that can damage the brain, heart and lungs, and cause brain damage in children and fetuses — according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
With 2,865 pounds emitted per year, Ohio accounts for 21 percent of annual mercury emissions, the most of the eight Great Lakes states, according to the report, which relied on EPA statistics.
The report also said the Genon power plant in Avon Lake had the seventh-highest mercury emissions in Ohio. The 732-megawatt, coal-fired plant — the No. 1 air polluter in Lorain County in 2010 with 2.4 million metric tons of greenhouse gases emitted — has been slated for closure in 2015.
The report, “Poisoning the Great Lakes,” supports the stricter mercury safeguards recommended by the federal EPA for 2015, which would reduce 90 percent of current emissions.
Report authors Cindy Copeland, Vicki Stamper and Megan Williams, identified as having a combined 40 years of experience in working on air pollution issues, said national standards are essential because states such as Ohio have waited for federal standards for power plants rather than implement their own.
“None of the top mercury emitters in Ohio have installed control technology specifically to reduce mercury,” the report said. “Given that 20 percent of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants are deposited locally, it is clear why Lake Erie is the most affected by mercury deposition from power plants.”
Thom Cmar, a council attorney, said that all of Ohio’s 22 coal-fired power plants are supposed to have their operating permits renewed every five years, but all of them expired many years ago. Cmar said the Ohio EPA has been slow to up to renew the permits, which require updated pollution controls.
“Whether it’s a question of lack of resources or lack of political will, and I think it’s probably a little bit of both, Ohio EPA has been far behind,” Cmar said in an interview.
Todd Taylor, an Ohio EPA spokesman, wouldn’t comment on the criticism.
The safeguards, which will cost $9.6 billion to implement, will prevent 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks annually, the federal EPA estimated.
However, the new standards are being challenged in the courts and Congress.
Companies, including American Electric Power and FirstEnergy Corp., which have plants in Ohio, are suing over the rules. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., has sponsored a bill to stop the protections, which he contends would kill jobs.
Some Avon Lake leaders are also unhappy about the Genon plant closing, which was announced after news of the enhanced safeguards.
City officials estimate losing about $77,000 in income tax revenue and $140,000 in property tax money annually. Avon Lake Schools officials estimate that the closure will cost the district close to $4 million annually.
However, the report said the annual health benefits in 2016 will be between $37 million and $90 million. And a study by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal economic think tank, found the rules will create 84,500 new jobs nationally, primarily from pollution abatement and control investments.
Josh Mogerman, a council spokesman, said criticism of the stricter safeguards was an industry scare tactic He said the closing of aging power plants like the Genon plant, whose largest unit was activated in 1970, was a business decision that had little to do with the safeguards.
“It’s a shame that they’re trying to blame that business decision on regulations that are being brought forth to protect the public health,” Mogerman said.