Anti-Mercury UN Minimata Convention Approved in Geneva: Impact on Coal?

140 nations meeting in Geneva have concluded an accord to limit mercury emissions, which must now be ratified by individual nations. It has implications for coal-fired power plants, among the most serious contributors to mercury pollution, as well as cement factories The treaty also seeks an end to mercury use in thermometers and batteries, and limitations on the transport of gadgets containing it. It put off a decision about artisanal gold mining, where the metal is deployed in small scale operations.

But coal is the most important villain here.

Mercury is a nerve poison and causes neurological and brain problems, as well as damaging the heart and kidneys. It is far more prevalent in the human environment, especially in water and fish, than before the industrial revolution. The UN has been discussing this issue for some time. Progress had been blocked by the Bush administration (sometimes you forget for a second how evil they were), but Barack Obama’s election in 2009 allowed the negotiations to proceed.

Coal provides over a third of US electricity now, down from 42% in 2011. The Environmental Protection Agency has to its credit begun insisting on filters to prevent mercury emissions at US coal plants, imposing costs that have caused many of them to close down. They can’t compete with increasingly inexpensive natural gas and wind if they have to invest billions to avoid poisoning us.

Unfortunately, the closing of the coal plants is not happening fast enough, and 1.4 gigawatts of new coal-fired power was installed in 2012. Coal is a major contributor to carbon dioxide emissions and disastrous climate change, in addition to the mercury problem.

CNTV reports:

I noted last Monday,

“The United Nations Environmental Program has just issued its [pdf] 2013 assessment of the mercury threat.

It finds that human-caused

“emissions and releases have doubled the amount of mercury in the top 100 meters [yards] of the world’s oceans in the last 100 years. Concentrations in deeper waters have increased by only 10-25%, because of the slow transfer of mercury from surface waters into the deep oceans. In some species of Arctic marine animals, mercury content has increased by 12 times on average since the pre-industrial period. This increase implies that, on average, over 90% of the mercury in these marine animals today comes from anthropogenic [human] sources.”

6 Responses

  1. The Environmental Protection Agency has to its credit begun insisting on filters to prevent mercury emissions at US coal plants, imposing costs that have caused many of them to close down. They can’t compete with increasingly inexpensive natural gas and wind if they have to invest billions to avoid poisoning us.

    “It will still be legal to build a coal-fired power plant; you’ll just go bankrupt.”

    When it comes to the effect of regulation on coal plant closings, expectations are as important as the costs imposed to date. Building a power plant is a massively expensive project, and they have to run for a long time to make that money back. Even if building a new coal plant is still viable under existing regulations, the expectation that it will be less profitable in the future can cause the power companies to shy away.

  2. “increasingly inexpensive natural gas …” But – we are paying a high future expense for natural gas considering how it is being obtained – fracking is and will pollute clean water sources.

    • Not to mention that our natural gas produces billions of tons of CO2 annually, which may fatally destabilize our planet for the purposes of human life.

      • The greatest irony of our time: a civilization addicted to accounting standards – which discipline everyone from minor employees to national governments – can’t be bothered to measure the true costs of its energy production by incorporating those costs into the price of energy.

  3. One of the larger black holes in your map of mercury emissions is Gibson County, Indiana. My cousin lives in Princeton, the country seat, and I visit him when I need to lose weight. As in most of the rural Midwest, you cannot get a decent meal unless you grow the food and cook it yourself: their high-end dining spot is Bob Evans.

    Rural Gibson County, population 33,503, is among the top 10% of all counties in the United States for toxic chemicals released by factories, power plants, and other industrial sources. My cousin asked me to check the source of Princeton’s orange sunsets and purple haze, and this is what I found in the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), a public-access database maintained by the EPA.

    Gibson County Reported Environmental Releases from TRI Sources in 2002

    1) Gibson Generating Station: 10,322,650 pounds
    2) Toyota Motor Mfg. Indiana (TMMI): 266,571 pounds
    3) Somerville North Mine: 12,055 pounds
    4) Somerville Central Mine: 9,848 pounds
    5) Bridon America Corp: 3,591 pounds
    6) Black Beauty Coal Co. Francisco Mine: 1,980 pounds
    7) Hurst MFG: 40 pounds
    8) Hansen Corp: 12 pounds
    9) Mid-States Rubber Prods. INC: 10 pounds

    With a 2009 aggregate capacity among its five units of 3,750 megawatts, Gibson Generating Station is the largest power plant run by Duke Energy, the third-largest coal power plant in the world, and the ninth-largest electrical plant in the United States; and with the closure of Nanticoke Generating Station in 2014, it will become the largest coal power plant in North America by generated power.

    Toyota’s TMMI plant outside Princeton builds all the Sienna mini-vans and Highlander SUVs for the U.S. market.

    Both Somervilles are surface coal mines, Black Beauty is underground.

    Bridon America makes steel cables which are mostly used in mining and oil drilling.

    Hurst and Hansen build electric motors.

    I told my cousin that if they closed Duke’s generator and got 30 more auto plants, they would come out ahead.

Comments are closed.