Waupaca – The Natural Resources Board approved sweeping air regulations on Wednesday aimed at cutting mercury emissions by 90% and eventually making fish that are caught in state waters safer to eat.

The board voted, 7-0, to revamp rules that are aimed at controlling mercury from coal-burning power plants. Mercury can eventually settle on water and contaminate fish.

Sporting and environmental groups and officials with the Department of Natural Resources pushed for the cut on environmental grounds, but also contend that reducing mercury contamination will help to bolster state fishing, which is estimated to produce $2.3 billion a year in revenue.

Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of electric power in Wisconsin. By 2009, utilities will account for nearly 9 of every 10 pounds of mercury emissions, according to the DNR.

Utilities would be forced to install new pollution controls that are estimated to cost $38 million to $221 million a year for mercury and other pollutants.

The controls on mercury alone could increase residential rates by $5 to $12 per year and $36 to $85 per year for commercial businesses, according to DNR estimates. For the paper industry, one of the largest energy users in the state, the DNR projects increases of $3 million to $6.9 million a year on total electric costs of $311 million.

If utilities agree to cut other pollutants, prices will go higher.

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