A coal-fired power plant near Rochester NY will be shut down as early as May 2008. The plant is located upwind of both Rochester and the Adirondack Forest Preserve, and it emits harmful pollution at a higher rate than any other power plant in New York. Rochester Gas will be allowed to replace the coal-burning unit with a cleaner burning plant fueled by natural gas. The Rochester Gas & Electric unit will also will pay a $200,000 civil penalty and fund $500,000 of programs to improve energy efficiency and reduce air pollution in the Rochester area, according to NY Attorney General Cuomo.
Studies have linked coal-fired power plants to hotspots of mercury pollution in the Adirondack Forest Preserve. The Adirondack region is located downwind of many coal plants that emit even higher levels of mercury pollution than does the Rochester plant. Ninety-six percent of the lakes in the Adirondack region exceed the recommended EPA action level for methyl mercury in fish.
Mercury is present in two-thirds of Adirondack loons at levels that negatively impact their behavior and reproductive capacity, posing a significant risk to their survival. The survival of
the loon in this polluted environment is viewed as the proverbial "canary in the coal mine", warning us of potential disaster. This dire state of affairs prompted the Adirondack Mountain Club, along with other organizations and states, to file a legal brief with the US Court of Appeals last year. Loons eat fish, and high levels of mercury in fish have elicited advisories that children as well as women of childbearing age should not eat any fish from waters in the Catskill reservoirs. Mercury can damage developing brains of fetuses and young children, and scientists fear this could cause neurological problems in 60,000 newborns per year in the USA. Fortunately for humans and loons, the federal appeals court recently struck down a 2005 EPA mercury-control plan which imposed less stringent requirements on power plants to reduce mercury pollution.