Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Idaho DEQ seeks comments on mercury emission rule

Express Staff Writer

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is accepting for another week public comments on incorporation of federal rules regarding mercury emissions from power plants—a consideration given additional significance in light of the coal-fired power plant proposed by Sempra Generation for Jerome County.

The Idaho DEQ is accepting comments until Oct. 26 on the Environmental Protection Agency's suggested air quality performance standard that would match federal and state guidelines on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, said Martin Bauer, administrator for the Air Quality Division of the Idaho DEQ.

States have caps on how much mercury can escape into the air. Idaho and three other states have a zero emission cap.

Idaho has to opt into the rule to participate in the cap and trade program, thus allowing coal-fired power plants that want to operate in Idaho to buy pollution credits from elsewhere, Bauer said.

"What the federal rule does is provide a cap and trade program for mercury," Bauer said. "It intends to decrease by more than half the mercury emissions throughout the United States."

The rule is a product of the EPA's Clear Skies Initiative. From that initiative came the Clean Air Interstate Rule, or CAIR, which requires 28 Eastern states to decrease nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions.

"Those controls will control mercury," Bauer said. "It's a co-benefit."

"If we (in Idaho) don't want to cap and trade, we have to develop a set of rules that will keep coal-fired power plants below the state cap," Bauer said.

Bauer said it would be unlikely that a coal-fired power plant could control to zero their mercury emissions. Opting out of the rule could in practice keep out coal-fired power plants.

The decision to opt out could also prevent from coming to Idaho power plants that use cleaner technology, but don't quite reach zero emissions.

"If something better comes along, we're saying no to any coal-fired power plant," he said. That could include gasification plants that are coal-fired but emit less pollutants.

The public was invited to comment on this rule earlier, but the announcement in April from Sempra of its intention to build a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant near Jerome gave increased weight to the decision.

"During that (initial) process, we got notice of the coal-fired power plant," Bauer said. "We saw that this rule would affect this plant."

The public comment period was opened for a second time because the DEQ didn't feel there was adequate public notice about the rule, Bauer said.

Public comments will become part of the formal record and will be considered by the Idaho DEQ.

Bauer and others will present comments to the Board of Environmental Quality on Nov. 16.

Other people in the decision-making process will be Toni Hardesty, director of the Idaho Department of. Environmental Quality, and Gov. Dirk Kempthorne.

If the board approves the rule, the information will be presented to lawmakers for legislative review and could go into effect by the end of the 2006 legislative session.

"It can trip up anywhere along the way," Bauer said.

Comment deadline

Submit comments about the proposed rule by Oct. 26 to: Martin Bauer,, (208) 373-0440.

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