Will the EPA save us?

Published 12:54 am Saturday, August 13, 2011


My great-grandfather and grandfather were known as the “great fishermen of Alcorn County, Miss.”

During my great-grandfather’s life, they fished almost every Wednesday afternoon when Corinth’s businesses closed. They also fished on weekends. After my great-grandfather died, my grandfather recruited other fishing partners, and they fished the same schedule. My grandfather fished until he retired, after which he quit, claiming he was too busy to fish.

They would eat the fish they caught and gave some away to friends and families. I certainly ate a lot of the fish they caught when I was young.

I started fishing as a teenager, although I don’t remember ever fishing with my grandfather. I think fishing was a much too serious pastime for him to have grandchildren along. My friends and I mainly fished Pickwick Lake on the Tennessee River and caught bream, small mouth bass and catfish. We ate almost all the fish we caught.

I remember the warnings and the signs in the 1970s about the dangers of eating fish because of high mercury levels. There was even a ban on eating fish from Pickwick because of the mercury levels in the fish. We ate the fish we caught anyway.

We all know mercury is the silver stuff in thermometers, and my mother told me not to bite the thermometer or the mercury would harm me.

Mercury is also found naturally in many places. It is embedded in rock, is in seawater, is vaporized in the air and is found in most substances on the earth, including coal. When coal is burned in power plants, the mercury that is not captured in scrubbers and other environmental equipment is released into the atmosphere where it eventually drops into the oceans and is eaten by small fish that are eaten by bigger fish and ultimately end up on your plate.

The EPA will soon pass regulations to limit the amount of mercury coal-fired power plants can emit. EPA estimates compliance with the rule will cost electric utilities – and ultimately you through your electric bill – $10.9 billion.

From the publicity, you would think that once the mercury reductions on coal-fired power plants are in place we will all be safe from the ravages of mercury and can eat our fish without worry.

Federal regulation has become an extremely significant and destabilizing factor in the planning and operation of our power plants in the future.

PowerSouth takes its responsibility as a corporate citizen extremely seriously and is committed to balancing business goals with the environmental, social and economic needs of the communities it serves.

In 2008 PowerSouth invested more than $317 million in environmental air quality improvements to comply with the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) and Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR). PowerSouth installed scrubbers on all three of the units at our coal-fired power plant to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions, added Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCRs) to reduce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and reduced our mercury emissions.

Our scrubbers do a good job capturing mercury, and it appears our coal-fired power plants will comply with the coming EPA regulations as we understand them today. We will do more to comply with EPA’s regulations on mercury emissions if we are required to do so.

However, you should not be fooled into thinking that coal-fired power plants are the root of all environmental evil and that if we could only get our electricity from “green” sources all would be environmentally well with earth. Huge amounts of mercury will continue to be released from other sources. If the EPA would spend more time structuring approaches that balance environmental and economic interests our country, our economy and our people would be much better off. It is clear that EPA remains firmly committed to its position. It is also clear that a number of lawmakers are committed to forcing EPA to stand down.

As we look toward the future, it is imperative that PowerSouth maintain a balanced portfolio of power supply resources and keep a watchful eye on legislative and regulatory developments that could hinder our mission to provide affordable, reliable energy to consumers. PowerSouth believes that energy providers must be active participants when seeking solutions for the future. We support initiatives that maintain our ability to provide the average family the reliable, affordable energy they expect.

Gary Smith is CEO of PowerSouth.