Analysis: Cost to Cut

Coal Emissions Is Low

Installing technology at coal-burning power plants to control 90 percent of the mercury the plants burn would cost the average consumer an additional $1 to $3 per month on household utility bills, according to an analysis issued yesterday by the National Wildlife Federation.

"For the price of a cup of coffee a month, we can slash mercury emissions from power plants," said Felice Stadler, the federation's policy specialist. "Isn't protecting the health of our children worth the cost of a cup of coffee a month?"

The federation looked at power plants in five states -- Illinois, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania -- and concluded that all of them could impose strict mercury controls without inflating consumers' electricity costs. The federation based its calculations on carbon injection technology it estimated would trap about 90 percent of the mercury produced by coal-fired plants. The results resemble those of studies conducted by the Energy Department and at least one industry group.

The administration -- which is drafting rules to reduce emissions by 70 percent after 2018 -- and industry officials questioned whether steeper reductions are feasible.

"If reducing mercury emissions was as simple as this report makes it out to be, we'd be doing it already," said Edison Electric Institute spokesman Dan Riedinger, whose group represents U.S. utilities. "There are some emerging reduction technologies that are promising, but they are emerging."

Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said that the administration is working to address the "serious health risk" associated with mercury but that addressing the problem is not as easy as "forgoing a cup of coffee."

For the Record

* The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said he has no evidence Osama bin Laden is in day-to-day control of al Qaeda but suggested the long-absent terrorist leader is alive. Lt. Gen. David Barno, who early this year predicted bin Laden would be captured by the end of the year, told reporters at the Pentagon: "I retired my crystal ball, and I don't make predictions anymore in terms of when we're potentially going to get any of the figures out there that we pursue every day in Afghanistan."

* U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly denied the Federal Election Commission's request that she temporarily set aside a ruling striking down several government rules on political fundraising. But she said the FEC rules she overturned will remain in effect until the commission writes new ones.

* Nearly 1.7 million military veterans have no health insurance or access to government hospitals and clinics for veterans, according to a report from a doctors' group that favors federally financed health care. The number of uninsured veterans jumped by 235,000 since 2000, meaning they are losing health insurance at a faster rate than the general population, said Physicians for a National Health Program, which advocates a universal national health insurance program. Cynthia Church, spokeswoman for the Veterans Affairs Department, said the doctors' group was "using veterans to advance their political agenda."

-- From News Services

and Staff Reports