Calls for TransAlta to reduce emissions grew louder last week as a Seattle-based coalition released a report detailing what it called an "extremely dangerous" level of mercury at the plant, about a month before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is expected to propose new mercury-emission requirements.
Environment Washington, a citizen-driven environmental advocacy group, held a news conference Thursday at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Seattle office, in which it released findings in a report titled “Dirty Energy’s Assault on Our Health: Mercury.”
The report, compiled by Shelley Vinyard and Lauren Randall of the group’s research and policy center, warned about the effects of mercury contamination in the food and water supply – and ranked 451 electric utilities throughout the nation that emit mercury.
Using data reported by TransAlta and compiled in the EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory database online, the report ranked TransAlta’s Centralia plant 125th with 361 pounds of mercury emitted in 2009. That was out of 134,365 pounds emitted nationwide.
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The local number is unacceptable, Environment Washington field associate Kristen Dumas said.
“Washingtonians love the outdoors, and to think a number of people are relying on dirty coal that emits mercury into our most beloved places is just sad,” she said.
“The data backs us up in calling on the EPA to enforce standards until the state of Washington comes up with its own plan for emissions statewide.”
PLAN FOR CUTS
The company says its mercury emissions will be cut in half as a result of new controls that will be installed at the plant and activated by Jan. 1, 2012.
The plant will install technology that involves injecting an absorbent to capture the mercury and dispensing of it through the plant’s fly ash system, rather than releasing it into the air, TransAlta Centralia spokeswoman Angela Mallow said.
“We instituted these controls in anticipation of the EPA regulations,” she said.
“I think it’s going to show not only the state and federal government but everyone that we’re taking steps in the right direction.”
The state Department of Ecology and TransAlta signed a deal in May in which the company agreed to reduce 20 percent of emissions of nitrogen oxides, as well as 50 percent of emissions using the controls that would begin operating no later than Dec. 31, 2012.
Mallow said the company is on track to finish that earlier.
But environmental groups, most notably Coal Free Washington and the Sierra Club, have repeatedly said the change isn’t happening quickly enough – a sentiment Dumas agreed with in principle, although she added that her attention is largely focused on politicians in Washington, D.C., and Olympia.
Environment Washington hopes to send a message to Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray to support the EPA in setting more stringent standards for mercury pollution.
As for TransAlta, Dumas said her group hopes the state and the plant both turn to a coal-free solution by 2015 without jeopardizing the positive economic effects for Lewis and Thurston counties.
“We recognize that TransAlta is a very important economic part of the community, and we hope everyone involved can work for a way to eliminate the pollution and preserve jobs in the region,” Dumas said.
“I’m very hopeful that we will see a good resolution to this.”