Friday, July 21, 2006

Mayor to governor: Opt out of mercury swap

Express Staff Writer

Randy Hall

Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall, on behalf of the Ketchum City Council, sent a letter Wednesday to Idaho Gov. Jim Risch, urging him to stay out of a mercury-credit trading program.

"We value the scenic beauty of our area and have taken great pride in protecting the environment," Hall wrote. "The coal-fired plant previously proposed in Jerome County called our attention to the lack of proper controls for siting such facilities, and forced us to realize how close we were to permanent degradation of our environment."

The federal program, initiated by the Environmental Protection Agency, allows states to trade mercury emissions credits, with the goal of reducing pollution nationwide.

If states opt in, they could allow more coal-fired power plants—or continue to let older, dirtier ones to operate—by purchasing credits from states that don't meet their maximum pollution allowance. By opting out, they would if effect prevent a coal-fired power plant from building there because the plant wouldn't be able to operate without any mercury emissions.

Idaho currently has no coal-fired power plants, so it has a cap of zero emissions. Only two other states and Washington, D.C., have no such power plants.

"You are now in a unique position to protect the environment and leave a legacy that will be enjoyed by our grandchildren," Hall's letter to Risch says. "We need your leadership to achieve energy independence. Idaho should carefully consider power generation from clean and renewable sources, such as solar, wind and geothermal, not nuclear power."

Many members of the Idaho House of Representatives support opting in to the program. The Senate, however, has a different view.

Earlier this month, 33 out of 35 state senators signed a letter urging the governor not to opt in to the program.

The board overseeing Idaho's Department of Environmental Quality voted last month to recommend that the governor opt out.

The governor's ruling is expected in mid-August, according to Jeff Storti, spokesman for the governor.

So far, Risch has been quiet on his intentions.

His predecessor, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, directed the DEQ to opt in to the program. But he took a position as Interior secretary with the Bush administration earlier this year, so the decision fell to Risch.

Ketchum resident Jeremy Fryberger, at Hall's request, made a presentation to the Ketchum City Council during its meeting Monday, July 17.

"Pollution from coal-burning industries has been actively discussed in recent months, both nationally and locally," he said. "And although news stories about Sempra and mercury pollution have receded from the front page, this debate is likely to continue for years. Pressing, though, is Idaho's next coal-related hurdle: 'opting in' or 'opting out' of the EPA's Mercury Cap and Trade program."

San Diego-based Sempra Generation last year announced intentions to build a 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant in Jerome County. Last spring, they decided to sell their development rights to the project.

During the last legislative session, state lawmakers imposed a two-year moratorium on the building or permitting of coal-fired power plants in Idaho. That does not include coal gasification plants. An interim energy committee is working this summer to create a long-term energy plan.

Hall's letter is not the first instance of municipal participation in state environmental affairs.

Last October, local officials sent a letter to the DEQ, requesting the agency opt out of the cap and trade program.

Signatories were Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson, Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant, then-Ketchum Mayor Ed Simon, Bellevue Mayor Jon Anderson, Carey Mayor Rick Baird, and Blaine County Commission Chairwoman Sarah Michael.

"It's not just about blocking coal," Ketchum resident Leslie Bradshaw said during Monday's meeting. "It's about making sure Idaho goes in the right direction."

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