GRDA's Chouteau plant in top 10 for mercury emissions, group says
BY SUSAN HYLTON World Staff Writer
Saturday, January 05, 2013
1/05/13 at 4:08 AM
An environmental watchdog group places the Grand River Dam Authority's coal-fired complex in Chouteau among the 10 power plants with the highest mercury emissions.
The Environmental Integrity Project's report, released this week, acknowledges that new pollution-reducing equipment has greatly reduced the amount of mercury and carcinogens released into the atmosphere across the country over the past 10 years.
It insists, however, that some facilities continue to lag.
"That progress is uneven, and the dirtiest plants continue to churn out thousands of pounds of toxins that can be hazardous to human health even in small concentrations," Environmental Integrity Project attorney Ilan Levin said in a news release. "For example, emissions of mercury from coal-fired plants have actually increased in the last decade in the state of Texas."
But Charles Barney, the GRDA's assistant general manager of hydro and thermal generation, said the state agency has taken a leadership position in the responsible use of coal for generating electricity.
"In 2012, the (Environmental Protection Agency) issued strict mercury-reduction regulations for all U.S. utilities using coal, and we feel that the most reliable data to be used comes from the EPA and not interest groups like EIP," Barney said. "GRDA will continue to meet these new EPA requirements by implementing additional technology improvements in the future."
The GRDA plant was No. 8 on the list, with 722 pounds of mercury emissions in 2011.
Five of the 10 plants listed were in Texas, and four are owned by Luminant Generation.
The No. 1 mercury emitter was Luminant's facility in Rusk County, Texas, with more than 1,500 pounds of mercury emissions in 2011.
The other plants listed were in Alabama, North Dakota, Missouri and Michigan.
The report concludes that the 10 power plants contributed 18 percent of mercury emissions from all coal-fired plants across the country in 2011.
Mercury is a toxin that settles or is washed into lakes and waterways, where it changes into methylmercury and builds up in fish.
Scientists say 99 percent of human exposure to mercury comes from eating fish. It is most harmful to developing fetuses and children.
Lakes closest to the GRDA plant - Grand, Oologah, Hudson and Fort Gibson - tested low in mercury, according to a 2010 report released by the state Department of Environmental Quality.
For its report, the Environmental Integrity Project used data from the EPA's Toxics Release Inventory, which contains information self-reported by electric power generators.
According to its website, the EIP is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that was created in March 2002 by former EPA enforcement attorneys to promote the enforcement of environmental laws.
Barney said the GRDA's Unit 2 has been the only coal plant in the state with a sulfur dioxide scrubber, which has been part of the unit since it was built in the mid-1980s.
In December 2011, the GRDA voluntarily implemented new technology to reduce mercury by approximately 50 percent and installed burners to address nitrogen oxide, he said.
"Electric generation from coal is the backbone of reasonable-cost electricity in Oklahoma, and GRDA will continue to fully cooperate with EPA and the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality in meeting all new safety and health standards," Barney said.
He said last year that the GRDA plans to spend $500 million by mid-2016 to replace its two coal-fired plants in an effort to comply with new federal mercury and air toxins rules.
An alternative, he said, would be to retrofit the newer of the two powerhouses and replace the older one with a natural gas-fueled combined-cycle plant.
Original Print Headline: Chouteau plant's emissions ripped
Susan Hylton 918-581-8381