Tuesday, Dec. 12

Gov. Blagojevich announces historic agreement with Midwest Generation to reduce power plant pollutants and deliver dramatic clean-air benefits

State's largest coal-fired power company agrees to the governor's plan to significantly cut mercury and other dangerous emissions that cause asthma, lung disease and developmental disabilities          Send a link to a friend

[DEC. 12, 2006]  CHICAGO -- Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich announced on Tuesday that his administration has reached an agreement with Midwest Generation, the largest coal-fired power plant company in Illinois, to dramatically improve air quality and protect public health by slashing mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from its fleet of six Illinois plants. This multi-pollutant agreement, along with similar agreements with Ameren and Dynegy, is a critical milestone in reducing toxic air pollution throughout Illinois and is one of the most important environmental and public health advances in Illinois history.

The agreement with Midwest Generation ensures that the company will install modern pollution control equipment at all its Illinois power plants or shut down any power generating units where it does not install pollution controls. The Illinois EPA reached this and the other multi-pollutant agreements after Blagojevich proposed an aggressive mercury pollution reduction plan in January 2006 to cut mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants.

The governor's mercury rule will reduce toxic mercury emissions from power plants far faster and deeper than federal restrictions and will achieve the largest overall amount of mercury reduction of any state in the country. The Illinois Pollution Control Board adopted the mercury rule in November, and the legislative Joint Committee on Administrative Rules voted Tuesday to approve the rule.

"These agreements mean cleaner air and cleaner water, and that means fewer health problems for children, for pregnant women and for people all across Illinois," Blagojevich said. "It took a lot of work to get to this point, but thanks to the environmental community, the power companies and the work of people like our EPA director, Doug Scott, we've achieved something no other state has done. And the result means a cleaner, healthier state."

Under the plan, Midwest Generation will:

  • Reduce toxic mercury emissions by an estimated 84 percent by 2009, 90 percent by 2013 and 95 percent by 2018, based on IEPA estimates, by installing mercury control equipment by July of 2009 at 16 of its 19 power generating units at its six power plants. The remaining three units will be shut down by Dec. 31, 2010. Mercury controls will be installed on plants in the cities of Chicago and Waukegan by July of 2008, 18 months ahead of federal regulations and a year ahead of Blagojevich's stringent mercury plan.

  • Reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by an estimated 68 percent by Jan. 1, 2012, and sulfur dioxide emissions by an estimated 80 percent by Jan. 1, 2019.

  • Close two power generating units at the Will County Station in Romeoville and one unit at its Waukegan Station between the end of 2007 and the end of 2010.

  • Install pollution control equipment by the end of 2018 to reduce nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide emissions on every power generating unit that remains in operation.

  • Close or install additional pollution control equipment for sulfur dioxide emissions at the single-unit Fisk Generation Station in Chicago by the end of 2015.

  • Close or install additional pollution control equipment at the Waukegan Station by the end of 2014 and close or install additional pollution controls to the Crawford Station in Chicago by the end of 2018.

  • Agree not to purchase emissions credits needed for compliance with sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides standards from outside of Illinois or from other companies in Illinois, which means that reductions in emissions are the result of actual pollution reductions in Illinois and not credits purchased from other states.

Under the agreement, Midwest Generation's parent company, Edison Mission Group, has also agreed to explore developing new wind power projects and to explore building new "clean coal" power generation plants. Such low-emissions power plants would gasify Illinois coal to produce electricity and allow for the capture and storage of carbon dioxide emissions, the primary greenhouse gas contributing to global climate change. Such investments in zero-emissions renewable energy and clean-coal technology will further improve air quality while reducing dependence on imported energy sources.

"This agreement provides long-term certainty for both the state and our company, helps the state and city of Chicago achieve their clean-air goals, and allows us to plan and manage significant capital investments and major technology projects in a reasonable time frame," said Ted Craver, chief executive officer of Edison Mission Group. "We have a strong interest in working with the governor to grow our business in clean coal and renewable energy generation in Illinois," he added.

"This powerful multi-pollutant agreement between Governor Blagojevich and Midwest Generation is an extraordinary environmental milestone for Illinois," said Doug Scott, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. "Combined with reducing mercury and cutting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, Midwest Generation's commitment to explore developing renewable energy and clean-coal projects can offset even more air pollution from their power plants."

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"I commend the decision by Midwest Generation to commit to closing or cleaning up their two facilities in Chicago and to reducing mercury emissions from their coal-fired power plants, including the plants located in Chicago," said Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. "Air pollution can have a harmful impact on our residents, our environment and our economy, and we need to do all we can to minimize it. Governor Blagojevich's continued leadership on this issue will benefit air quality and improve the quality of life for residents in the entire Chicagoland area."

"The mercury pollution reduction settlement will lead to cleaner air and better protection for children's health and our environment," said Howard A. Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center. "Illinois is now a national leader in stepping up to reduce mercury pollution from coal plants by about 90 percent by 2009. Combined with measures under way in other Midwest states, Illinois actions will go far towards reducing mercury in the Great Lakes and our inland lakes and rivers."

"There is now consensus that we can and must eliminate the menace of toxic mercury pollution in Illinois," said Rebecca Stanfield, state director of Environment Illinois. "The argument that it is impossible or too expensive to protect our children's health has been thoroughly discredited, and, together, we've created a good model for other states. At the same time, this agreement is an important milestone for ensuring clean-air progress in Illinois. In January, Governor Blagojevich and the Illinois EPA made a promise, and today, they have admirably delivered on that promise. We're happy to extend our thanks and congratulations."

Under these agreements between the Illinois EPA and Midwest Generation, Ameren and Dynegy, reduction of mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions will far exceed those required under the federal Clean Air Mercury Rule and the Clean Air Interstate Rule, demonstrating that greater protections to public health and the environment are both achievable and cost-effective. Under the Clean Air Mercury Rule, power producers in Illinois would have been required to reduce their mercury emissions by only 78 percent by 2018, not the 90 percent reduction by 2009 required by the Illinois rule. And, under the Clean Air Interstate Rule, power producers would have been required to reduce their sulfur dioxide emissions by only 34 percent, not the estimated reductions of 76 percent by Ameren, 65 percent by Dynegy and 80 percent by Midwest Generation that are required under agreements with each company under the Illinois rule.

These reductions are critically important because mercury is a harmful toxin that can cause serious health problems to the human nervous system. Mercury becomes toxic when it enters surface water from the atmosphere through rain and snow, and people can become exposed by eating fish from contaminated lakes and waterways. Mercury exposure can harm developing fetuses and can cause mental retardation, cerebral palsy, lower IQs, slow motor functions, deafness, blindness and other health problems. Recent studies indicate that as many as 10 percent of babies born each year in the United States are exposed to excessive mercury levels in the womb.

In the United States, an estimated 43 percent of mercury emissions come from power plants, making them the largest man-made source of mercury emissions. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the state's coal-fired power plants emit more than 3.5 tons of mercury into the air every year.

Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides contribute to fine particles of air pollution, and nitrogen oxides chemically contribute to ground-level ozone that can lead to respiratory illness, particularly in children and the elderly, and aggravate heart and lung diseases. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides can also contribute to acid rain, reduced visibility and damage to sensitive ecosystems.

As part of the overall effort to establish Illinois as the nation's clean-air leader, this summer the governor proposed the nation's most innovative and aggressive energy independence plan, which includes additional strategies to reduce carbon emissions by boosting investments in energy-efficient technologies, renewable power generation and homegrown fuels made from Illinois coal, corn and soybeans. The plan also includes a proposed pipeline to help capture carbon dioxide emissions from new coal gasification plants. In July, the governor announced that the state would begin powering 141 Springfield-based facilities under his control with clean, renewable wind energy purchased from the Springfield's municipal utility company, City Water Light and Power.

[News release from the governor's office]

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