More than one million new trees in three months, that’s the plan for Luminant’s 2010 reforestation program.
Ashley Monts, media relations for Luminant (a subsidiary of Energy Future Holdings of Dallas, formerly TXU). said that tree planting machines are working to plant roughly 845,000 tree seedlings at the Martin Lake Mines as part of the company’s reclamation program.
Planting crews are currently hard at work reforesting established mine sites across Texas, fulfilling Luminant’s long-standing commitment to quickly return mined land to productivity.
“System-wide, these efforts total roughly 1.2 million new trees planted in about three months,” Monts said. “The machines, which are capable of planting up to 10,000 seedlings in a single day, began work in mid-December and will continue through March planting species native to each mine location.”
In addition to planting loblolly pines for commercial timber production, about 32 different kinds of trees are planted in wildlife habitat areas including up to a dozen different oak species, black walnut, pecan, hickory, persimmon, mulberry and sugarberry.
Dan Darr, environmental specialist at Martin Lake Mines, explained that the project isn’t just about fulfilling the basic requirements but good stewardship of the land itself.
“Reforestation is something we take great pride in, it’s not just part of a process but is a mindset,” Darr said. “We’re charged to be good stewards of the land and that’s a commitment we take seriously.”
Darr also believes that it’s just good business to maintain the land rather than just use it up.
“Not only are we reclaiming mined land but we’re boosting the economy because we’re producing trees for commercial use, we’re also providing a natural resource for our future generations to enjoy,” Darr said.
Typically, about two-thirds of what is planted at the Martin Lake Mines is pine, the remainder of the land is planted with hardwoods, dozens of native varieties that are planted for the fish and wildlife habitats.
“For almost 40 years, Luminant has set the standard in restoring mined lands. The continued success of our reforestation program is a testament to the hard work and continuous innovation of our employees,” said Sid Stroud, director of environmental mining. “We take pride in being a steward of the environment and are constantly looking for ways to both enhance our efforts and advance the science of land reclamation.”
Stroud added that before the current federal and state laws were written, Luminant was committed to reclaiming mined land in an environmentally sound manner, while adding value in the process.
The company has reclaimed more than 66,000 acres and planted upwards of 29 million trees since beginning reclamation and reforestation efforts nearly 40 years ago.
However, according to a report released last week by the nonpartisan Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) group, mercury emissions increased at more than half of the country’s 50 largest mercury-emitting power plants, many of which lack widely available pollution controls for the highly toxic metal.
Each of the two facilities with the highest mercury emissions are owned by Luminant.
Both plants, the Martin Lake plant near Henderson in Rusk County and the Big Brown plant near Fairfield in Freestone County, saw emissions grow, including a nearly 33 percent increase at the Big Brown plant. A Luminant plant near Mount Pleasant in Titus County ranked fifth but showed nearly a 15 percent reduction in emissions.
Monts said new technology is being installed on all coal-fueled power plant units that will offset all mercury emissions from three new coal-fired power plants and reduce mercury emissions to below 2005 levels.
“Installation of this new technology is complete at 10 of our coal-fueled power plant units, including all three Martin Lake Power Plant units, with active plans to finish installation at our two remaining units in 2010,” Monts said.
The report, which used the most recent data available from the Environmental Protection Agency, found that mercury emissions increased at 27 of the top 50 plants from 2007 to 2008. Monts pointed out that the data cited by the EIP is not current through 2009.
“Luminant is currently doing more than any other company in the nation to voluntarily cut mercury emissions from our coal-fueled power plants,” Monts said. “The company has been actively engaged in cutting-edge research of various mercury control technologies and monitoring initiatives at a number of our power plants.”
Monts added that the company is committed to reducing mercury emissions and will continue to meet all state and federal laws and rules regarding mercury and other emissions.
Overall, power plant emissions of mercury decreased 4.7 percent in that period, but that amount was far less than what would be possible with available emission controls, according to EIP’s report.
“Even though the technology exists today to dramatically reduce the mercury pollution, the U.S. power industry has delayed cleanup and barely made a dent in the power plant emissions,” said Ilan Levin, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project. “Delay by both the EPA and the electric power industry is what has caused this.”
The Environmental Integrity Project is a nonprofit organization that promotes stronger enforcement of anti-pollution laws.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution, generating more than 40 percent of U.S. emissions. Mercury released into the air settles in rivers and lakes, where it moves through the food chain to fish that people eat.
Mercury exposure in fetuses can result in children born with learning disabilities. Each year, more than 300,000 babies may have an increased risk of such exposure, the report said.
Since 1990, the EPA has been required under the Clean Air Act to impose controls on many forms of air pollution, including mercury. To date, however, no national regulation limits mercury pollution.
The EPA is working on a mercury reduction rule and has agreed in a court settlement to complete it by November 2011. The agency adopted a cap-and-trade system of tradable mercury emission allowances in 2005, but a federal court ruled that it didn’t comply with the clean-air law and threw it out in 2008. U.S. power plants emitted 44.7 tons of mercury in 2008.