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Action Alert:
  FirstEnergy seeks to increase toxic mercury pollution at Lake Shore plant

by Nachy Kanfer
Sierra Club National Coal Campaign – Ohio

The Issue

FirstEnergy Generation Corp. has requested that the Ohio EPA issue a 'mercury variance' for their Lake Shore coal-fired power plant, located just off Lake Erie near E. 72 St in Cleveland. This means FirstEnergy would face much less stringent restrictions on how much mercury can be present in the wastewater that is discharged from the plant. As the law currently stands, FirstEnergy is required to reduce mercury levels in the wastewater below 1.3 parts per trillion by November, 2010. If Ohio EPA grants a mercury variance, this requirement will no longer exist. Mercury is a neurotoxin that builds up in fish and is known to cause delayed development and mental retardation in children. One in six women nationwide already has such high mercury levels in her blood that she cannot safely bear children.

The Plant

The Lake Shore coal-fired power plant is a bad environmental neighbor. For the past twelve consecutive quarters, federal agencies have found the Lake Shore plant to be non-compliant for various environmental standards. At least twice in the past five years, the plant has been issued a formal notice of violation. Additionally, of all Ohio utilities, FirstEnergy has dragged its feet the most when it comes to implementing last year's Senate Bill 221, which mandates an aggressive increase in energy efficiency.

The Community

Neighborhoods surrounding the Lake Shore plant, including the Hough neighborhood, present a textbook case for environmental justice. Within a 3-mile radius of the facility, 90% of residents are members of racial minority groups, and over 43% of households are making less than $15,000 per year. Local residents also find themselves above the 90th percentile nationwide in terms of risk for cancer, neurological hazards, and respiratory hazards. The last thing the local community needs is another environmental risk, this time in the form of mercury.

Sierra Club's Position

Sierra Club strongly opposes granting a mercury variance to FirstEnergy for its Lake Shore coal-fired power plant. Sierra Club suggests if FirstEnergy does not wish to invest in pollution control equipment, the company should consider shutting the plant down, instead. Within a few months, Ohio EPA will hold a public hearing on this issue (exact date not yet determined). We urge all our members, volunteers and supporters to contact us if you wish to be notified when this hearing takes place. Additionally, please consider taking action to urge the EPA not to grant FirstEnergy the mercury variance.

For a more technical version of our position and for more details on the issue, download a copy of our formal comments to Ohio EPA (PDF 151 K).

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Calling All Local Issues

Do you know of a local environmental issue in need of attention? Do you have inside information on what's going on in your city or township? With over 5,000 members in Northeast Ohio we count on you to be the Club's eyes and ears of the region. While the Federal government and large corporations continue to wreak havoc on our environment, it is more important than ever before to act as watchdogs in our own backyards.

If you know of a local environmental issue in need of observation or action, please contact the Conservation Committee - Dennis Plank (216) 939-8229.

Remember, no obstacle too great when passionate communities unite.

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Activist Calling Instructions

For those new to calling state or federal representatives, it's easier and less confrontational than it sounds. You will never speak directly with your rep or senator - an aide will answer the phone, take brief notes plus your name and city (sometimes), and that's it.

When calling either state or federal government offices, you will not need to go into detail or defend your position. No one will ever argue with you. They may ask questions to clarify what issue you support or don't support. But it's usually as simple as saying: "Please let my rep know that I want him/ her to support Bill number XX" (if there is a number), or "green building standards in schools", or "more renewable energy"; or "I do not want the US to drill for oil in ANWR!" The staff taking the calls are there to receive your information and forward it on or to provide information you request. They will not question what you support or your beliefs. You will never know if they personally do not agree with you.

One phone call is a lot more important than you may think! A long-time aide in Washington explained that, if a congress person receives many calls at their office, the aide will actually call the congress person on their cell phone, even if they're on the floor of the Capitol, debating. When asked, "How many is a lot?" her response was, "About 20." Your one call can make a difference.

For updates on Sierra Club legislative priorities call 202-675-2394 or log on to

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