Measure will protect health of residents and preserve a strong fishing tradition

MADISON — Utilities will be required to reduce mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants by 90 percent by 2015 or by the same amount by 2021 if they agree to more stringent standards for other pollutants, after the State Legislature’s Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules failed to object to the measure today.

“This rule will help protect the health of Wisconsinites and preserve one of Wisconsin’s most celebrated pastimes, fishing,” said Keith Reopelle, senior policy director at Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental advocacy organization. “We applaud the hard work of staff at the Department of Natural Resources to protect us from the dangers of toxic mercury pollution.”

Mercury pollution represents a serious threat to the public health of Wisconsin. Chronic exposure to mercury results in memory loss, speech difficulties, troubles with vision, and cardiovascular problems in adults. Children and the unborn exposed to mercury can face neurological damage that impairs development, leads to low intelligence and inhibits school performance.

People are generally exposed to mercury by eating fish that live in polluted waters. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and Department of Health currently list every inland body of water in the state under a fish consumption advisory because of mercury pollution.

“It’s a sad fact that we must consider health risks before eating fish from our lakes, rivers and streams,” said Reopelle. “This rule will help significantly reduce those risks, and protect the 2.75 billion dollar fishing industry in our state.”

The Mercury Rule is expected to become effective January 1 and will require the owners of coal-fired power plants to reduce mercury emissions by following one of two paths. Operators of such plants can choose between reducing mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2015 or can extend that deadline until 2021 by agreeing to more stringent limits on nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, pollutants that increase the toxicity of mercury and contribute to soot and smog.

“This rule helps protect our environment, our economy and our fishing tradition,” said Reopelle. “We can all celebrate today’s important progress.”