A bill that would phase out the use of mercury in the manufacture of chlorine products probably will die in Congress this year, but it could be reintroduced in 2011.
The Mercury Pollution Reduction Act was sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who was re-elected last week. It would have required four such plants -- including Olin Corp.'s Augusta facility -- to convert to a mercury-free process or close by 2015.
"The bill did get through the committee in the House but it did not get a hearing in the Senate," said Jackie Savitz, the senior pollution campaign director for the environmental group Oceana. "It will probably die this year, but we'll obviously be talking to a lot of the original supporters about getting it back in next year."
Olin's 44-year-old Augusta plant is one of just four in the U.S. still using mercury to make chlorine. About 115 plants have converted to newer processes.
Although environmental groups contend the use of mercury is obsolete and unnecessary because of the availability of cleaner technology, company officials point out that their plants have reduced mercury emissions and operate under permits administered by state and federal regulators.
Olin's Augusta plant generates $35 million in local goods and pays about $500,000 in property taxes. In addition to its 100 manufacturing jobs, 103 jobs are tied to support services, according to company officials. Estimates of the cost to convert the plant have totaled about $90 million.
Company officials have not revealed whether they would convert -- or close -- the Augusta plant if such a law were passed.
"We have already indicated that we will fully evaluate the possibilities of doing away with mercury cell technology at our facilities, if Congress allows sufficient time for such a change," company spokesman Elaine Patterson said in an e-mailed statement earlier this year.
Savitz said the chemical industry has opposed such legislation.
"They've pushed pretty hard against it, but they haven't taken any proactive steps to propose a better way," she said.
Even if a similar bill cannot be advanced next year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering federal standards that could eliminate the use of mercury anyway, she said.
"They are working on newer standards for what they call 'maximum achievable control technology,' and we've argued that this basically means mercury-free technology," she said. "That's something that could force these companies to make the shift."
In addition to Olin's Augusta plant, the proposed legislation would have affected an Olin plant in Charleston, Tenn.; a PPG Industries facility in Natrium, W.Va.; and the Ashta Chemicals plant in Ashtabula, Ohio.