Sierra Club
Press Release

County Board Votes Unanimously to Condemn We Energies’ Mercury Variance

“We Energies should be moving towards 100% renewables. This is 2019, not 1919.”

By - Apr 26th, 2019 11:17 am

Milwaukee, WI — On Thursday, the Milwaukee County Board voted unanimously in support of a resolution opposing We Energies’ request to the DNR for a mercury variance in their discharge water from the Oak Creek-Elm Road coal plants. The proposed variance in the DNR’s draft permit would allow We Energies to discharge water tainted with mercury at up to three times the state standard into Lake Michigan. Mercury is a well-known neurotoxin that has harmful effects on nervous systems, digestive and immune systems, lungs and kidneys, and other parts of the body. The resolution was authored and introduced by Supervisor Steven Shea, and was co-sponsored by Patti Logsdon, Willie Johnson Jr., Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, and Deanna Alexander.

“Today, I am proud to say that the Milwaukee County Board unanimously passed a resolution calling upon the DNR to deny We Energies a mercury variance in their water permit. There is no scientific, environmental, or moral reason to put more mercury into Lake Michigan. Mercury is highly toxic. It causes all kinds of intellectual and physical challenges in newborns,” stated District 8 Supervisor Steven Shea, who authored the resolution and represents Cudahy, St. Francis, South Milwaukee, and parts of Oak Creek. “We Energies should be moving towards 100% renewables, not burning more coal. This is 2019, not 1919.”

Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, who co-sponsored the resolution and represents District 12, agreed, stating, “I stand here today in support of my colleagues with this resolution because Milwaukee county is ranked 71 out of 72 counties in Wisconsin for health. The health of our communities is far more important than the profits of a corporation.”

“Years ago, we worried about mercury levels in salmon. That problem is getting worse, so I feel that we should not increase these mercury levels. We should be proud of our freshwater lake,” added District 9 Supervisor Patti Logsdon, who co-sponsored the resolution and represents most of the Oak Creek area and parts of Franklin.

Leaders of several local environmental and faith groups strongly supported the resolution.

“Science and religion agree that the web of life is an interconnected gift that is precious and fragile. A most precious and fragile resource right here where we live is our Great Lake, and if we poison it today our children and most vulnerable populations will suffer,” remarked Reverend John Helt, an ordained minister of the United Church of Christ and a representative of Wisconsin Interfaith Power and Light. “We Energies must not be allowed to poison this and future generations of God’s children and creatures. For their sake, for our sake, let us not make a bad situation worse. Our ultimate goal must be to stop burning coal and all fossil fuels.”

Julie Enslow, a member of 350-Milwaukee, agreed. “It seems quite incredible to me that we are here today to seriously consider whether or not We Energies be allowed to release more highly toxic mercury into our precious lake from a filthy coal power plant. Burning coal not only releases mercury and other toxics into our air and water but also contributes greatly to the crisis of climate change. We Energies should be standing here today apologizing for the pollution of Lake Michigan. The burning of fossil fuels has to stop now if we are to preserve a livable future on this planet.”

“Common sense tells us it is not a good idea to pollute the lake that is the source of our drinking water,” stated Eric Hansen, a leader of Citizens Acting for Rail Safety. “It is time to transition away from the inherent dangers of fossil fuels and invest in clean energy, and a future worth looking forward to.”

Background: In December, We Energies requested a mercury variance up to three times the state standard in their updated water discharge permit for their Elm Road-Oak Creek coal facility. In February, the Wisconsin DNR held a hearing to gather public comments on the proposed permit. Over 150 people attended the hearing and expressed opposition against several provisions of the draft permit, including the mercury variance. The permit as written would also allow We Energies to continue a dirty, outdated process for treating coal ash until 2023, the latest possible date under federal EPA rules. 100 percent of the spoken comments at the hearing were in opposition to the permit as written.

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