Four of the six generating units at the Huntley power plant in the Town of Tonawanda would not have to cut mercury emissions under the federal Environmental Protection Agency's proposed Clear Skies regulations, according to a report released Wednesday.
The report by the environmental advocacy group New York Public Interest Research Group said the loophole exempts power plant generating units that release 30 pounds or less of mercury annually from cutting their emissions, even if the plant's total releases exceed the standard.
At the Huntley plant, four units released less than 30 pounds a year in 1999 -- the last year for which figures were available -- but combined to release a total of 59.7 pounds. The two other units at Huntley released 57.1 and 67.5 pounds, respectively.
All of the units in two other coal-fired power plants in Western New York, the Dunkirk plant in Chautauqua County and AES Somerset in Niagara County, exceeded the 30-pound standard in 1999.
Somerset's one unit produced 75.3 pounds, while Dunkirk's four units combined to release 208.2 pounds.
Mercury emitted from power plant smokestacks collects in water and becomes a neurotoxin -- methylmercury. Developing fetuses and children exposed to even low levels of methylmercury are at risk for decreases in brain function, according to a number of studies.
The EPA, in a statement, denied that the provision is part of the administration's Clear Skies bill, which is still being developed in Congress.
"If this bill becomes law, almost two-thirds of the power plant units in New York would continue belching out toxic mercury pollution," said Jason K. Babbie, Environmental Policy Analyst for the New York Public Interest Research Group.
Babbie called on Gov. George E. Pataki to set in-state standards for mercury emissions, something NYPIRG said the governor pledged to do in 2002 if the federal government did not.
Dr. Alan Lockwood, a professor of neurology and nuclear medicine at the University at Buffalo and past president of the environment and health committee of Physicians for Social Responsibility, also called for strict in-state standards.
"Each year, 40,000 babies are born in New York state with mercury levels that exceed the EPA target," he said. "The 5 percent who are the most highly exposed are likely to suffer a loss of 1.6 to 3.2 IQ points."