Mercury pollution is driving loons crazy
This year I spent some lazy late-summer days watching loons patrol a wilderness area lake I’d backpacked to. I should have been totally relaxed and enjoying this gorgeous and remote spot in the Adirondacks, but I couldn’t help wondering if these birds had succeeded in hatching a brood, with no sign of little ones about. A friend at the Biodiversity Research Institute had told me of a paper they were soon publishing, which demonstrated the negative impacts of methyl mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants in the Midwest on loon behavior, physiology, survival, and reproductive success in the Northeast. The most impacted pairs David et al studied showed signs of lethargy and aberrant behavior (crazy loons), and they also “fledged” 41 percent fewer young. The birds’ body burden of mercury increased 8.4 percent each year during the study. Sobering and awful.
So I cheered this month when I heard that New Source Review rules had been used by my state and seven others to successfully sue an Ohio company for acid rain impacts on wildlife, ecosystems, and structures in the Northeast. While acid rain is only peripherally related to the mercury problem we have from those same plants, it’s a step in the right direction, and as this article points out, it’s really good news for two reasons.
For one, the New Source Review program has been shown to have teeth, and “the government won’t temporize forever with the question of when the repair or expansion of old power plants requires effective cleanup technology; in a word, that the grandfathering of dirty power plants can’t go on in perpetuity.” And most importantly, companies “can be compelled to stop externalizing their costs.” The fact that the company has been given until 2019 to clean up its act (?!) is somewhat balanced by the additional $75 million civil penalty. Beautiful.