Friday, October 21, 2005

Local comments needed fast on mercury emissions

Hidden in dense and indecipherable government notices is an opportunity for all Idahoans to influence whether or not a coal-fired power plant is located in Jerome—close enough to affect the air and water in all of Central Idaho.

But concerned citizens will have to act fast because the door will close next Wednesday, Oct. 26.

That's the last day the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality will accept public comment on whether Idaho should become part of the federal government's "cap and trade" program.

If it becomes part of the program, Idaho will allow industry to buy pollution credits from elsewhere in order to foul Idaho's air with pollutants including mercury, which is toxic to the human nervous system.

The state has the option to refuse to participate and to retain its existing zero emissions cap on mercury.

Idaho should surely retain the right to control its own air.

Coal-fired power plants, like the one proposed by Sempra Generation for Jerome, release mercury into the air as coal is burned.

From the air, mercury is deposited into bodies of water where it's converted into a nasty form called methylmercury. This form has a bad habit of building up in fish tissues. The tuna scare of the last few years brought the widespread dangers of mercury poisoning into the public eye.

If humans eat contaminated fish—or other animals that live on fish—in large enough quantities, they may suffer everything from mental impairment to kidney disease to death. The risk is highest for unborn children.

Idaho has a choice.

Central Idaho can keep its clean air and water. Or not. People will be able to breathe deeply of mountain air and look forward to a dinner of healthy pan-fried Idaho trout. Or not. Silver Creek can remain famous. Or become polluted.

The whole "cap and trade" program has not even generated a footnote in the discussion about the Sempra plant, and time is short. More must be said.

Comments may be sent to Martin Bauer at the DEQ at the following addresses:

By e-mail: or by U.S. mail to: Hearing Coordinator Paula J. Wilson, Department of Environmental Quality, 1410 Hilton Boise, Idaho 83706-1255.

Idahoans need to get going today and tell the DEQ how strongly they feel about keeping mercury out of their air, water, fish and wildlife.

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