Don’t Let Utilities Get Away With Mercury Pollution

by Dominique Browning

Back in 2011, we launched Moms Clean Air Force with an urgent campaign: get mercury and other poisonous emissions from coal-fired power plants out of our air.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, extremely dangerous for fetuses, infants and toddlers; it affects their developing brains, lungs and hearts. After 21 years—and a fierce battle in which you played an important role–in June 2012 the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to significantly curtail mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants went into effect.

Victory? Yowzers! I sure am politically naïve.

I hadn’t understood that there is yet another level in the endless–and broken–rule-making process: lawsuits. The latest tactic of certain utilities is to spend millions of ratepayer dollars to tie up the important mercury rules in court — for years.

A leader in those lawsuits is Nick Akins, CEO of American Electric Power (AEP). He and his colleagues are fighting for the right to keep poisoning our air.

It is time for parents, and anyone who cares about our children’s health, to use our power.

Every year, over 400,000 U.S. newborns are affected by mercury pollution. When I was pregnant, decades ago, I was told by my doctor not to eat tuna because it was contaminated with mercury. But no one ever explained that we have mercury in our fish because of air pollution--toxic emissions spewing from coal-fired power plants, settling in our lakes, rivers and oceans, and entering the food chain.

  • Lawsuits against mercury rules mean many more years of mercury and other toxins being spewed into our atmosphere.
  • Lawsuits mean many more years of pregnant women, fetuses, infants and children being exposed to the hazards of mercury and other toxics.
  • Lawsuits mean many more years of contaminated fish from America’s waters.
  • Lawsuits mean many more years of cynically spending ratepayer dollars instead of spending on cleaning up toxic pollution.

Who else is suing to protect their right to spew toxins into our air? Other coal-fired power plants, of course. Hiding behind the face of industry coalition groups — the secretive Utility Air Regulatory Group, UARG, and the misleadingly named American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, ACCCE — some of the worst mercury-polluting utilities are suing to stop the rules.

These power companies have power. AEP’s lobbying expenditures for 2012 totaled $7,529,135 — and that’s just one power company!

But parents have power too. The power of doing what is right. The lawsuits are morally bankrupt.

There are lots of utility good guys, too. We list them — and the bad guys — at Many companies have publicly supported the rule, and installed scrubbers — without raising electric rates. That’s what makes this mess so remarkable. And so tragic. It is unnecessary.

Shame on the utilities that are stalling for time–and paying with our children’s health.


Cartoon: Danny Shanahan

— Dominique Browning is co-founder and Senior Director of Moms Clean Air Force. Reprinted with permission.


6 Responses to Don’t Let Utilities Get Away With Mercury Pollution

  1. catman306 says:

    Might as well tell the railroads and freight lines to stop moving coal.

    Now there’s an idea. Coal is a dangerous substance. Make the railroad label and ship it as such. Coal would get a lot more expensive and become the fuel of last resort for power companies.

    Or do I just imagine that it costs more to ship a ton of anhydrous ammonia than it costs to ship a ton of scrap metal?

  2. BillD says:

    We were close to putting in mercury regulations before Bush caused a 10 year delay. Hg can be taken out at the smoke stack or utilities can switch to burning other fuels. It’s really not much to ask that we produce electricity without poisoning fish and lakes. If CO2 emissions are also reduced, that is clearly an added benefit. Coming from a state that gets 80%+ of electricity from coal, I am willing to pay a higher price for electricity to markedly reduce mercury emissions.

  3. rjs says:

    so where do these utility company execs & their lawyers live that they escape the effects of mercury?

  4. Rebecca says:

    Clean Energy please!

  5. mulp says:

    Where do voting age people live and raise families who don’t vote for Congress or vote Republican?

    In Texas in 2010 I believe only a third of the eligible voters actually bothered to vote, yet most of Texas is subject to environmental harm. Remember that Texas was Democratic in the 60s and gave us many great national pols, including LBJ who by winning in a landslide and then pushing a broad agenda passed lots of health related laws, including the wave of environmental laws that led Nixon to act aggressively on environment, creating the EPA, the conservative’s most hated agency.

    It seems that millions of Texans want to live in pollution, because they vote Republican if born in Texas, but hundreds of thousands have moved to polluted Texas and vote for pollution by voting Republican. Rick Perry has campaigned on a platform of more pollution and won reelection multiple times.

  6. rollin says:

    You can’t eat much fish in the northeast without building up mercury toxicity. Bio-concentration is a powerful accumulator of toxic metals.
    The air, land and water is polluted by fossil fuels and petro products. Coal is the worst as far as heavy metal pollution and radioactivity. SOx pollution is another big killer for which coal burning is responsible.

    The other big, but not advertised, toxic problem is treated wood. All that arsenic laced wood is now being disposed of as it ages and needs replacement, and many people have no idea that is should not be burned. Even the new arsenic free treated woods have toxic metals, causing them to be a danger if burned.