WisBusiness: Natural Resources Board adopts mercury rule

By Brian E. Clark

The Wisconsin Natural Resources Board today unanimously approved a rule that will require utilities to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired plants by 90 percent by 2015.

The vote should also significantly reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, lowering ozone and particulate matter levels leading to major improvements in air quality beyond those already achieved, officials said.

The approval comes after Dane County Circuit Judge Steven Ebert earlier this week rejected a lawsuit by business groups that attempted to stop the state from moving ahead with new rules restricting mercury emissions.

Ebert agreed with the state’s position that it had followed the proper steps in implementing the rule.

Matt Frank, Department of Natural Resources secretary, hailed the decision and called it a “major step forward in improving Wisconsin’s air quality.

“It will dramatically reduce mercury deposition into Wisconsin’s lakes, benefiting our fish and wildlife and human health.”

Environmental groups also applauded the move.

“Reducing mercury pollution is essential to preserving our health and our way of life,” said Keith Reopelle, senior policy director at Clean Wisconsin.

“While we would like to have seen a stronger rule, the adopted rule is significantly better than existing regulation and will help greatly reduce the amount of toxic mercury in our air, lakes, rivers and streams.”

Business groups that brought the lawsuit – Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Wisconsin Utility Investors and the Wisconsin Paper Council – must now decide their next steps.

Scott Manley, the WMC’s director of ennvironmental policy, said his organization will first lobby the Legislature to ask for a review to delay the rule going into effect. He said lawmakers should be upset that the DNR did not issue an economic impact report on the cost of reducing mercury emissions by 90 percent.

He said that figure would cost $500 million more than cutting emissions to 70 percent., which he said is the federal limit.

Manley said he also was disturbed that the DNR had added statewide ozone regulations to the mercury rule, a move that he argued could cost utility customers billions of dollars.

“Our electric rates are already higher than Midwest average,” he said.

“This will make gap even worse and put us at an even greater competitive disadvantage. We can’t sustain high-paying manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin if it’s more expensive place to do biz here.”

Complete text of the rule and a report on mercury-related human health risks can be found at www.dnr.wi.us