Skip to main content

Cleaning Up Mercury, Protecting Our Health

A new report has some not-so-great news for those who love to eat fish. Mercury is turning up in fish from all over the world—and coal is one of the main culprits.

Coal burned in power plants releases mercury, basically dissolved in smoke, that later settles out over the land. It typically falls out of the atmosphere within 30 miles or so of where it was burned and then finds its way into soil and runoff that eventually end in the oceans.

President Obama won the White House on a platform of hope and change – promising an end to dirty corporate influence over our political system and a beginning to an era in which our energy choices lead us to a clean, sustainable future, or at least don’t kill us or make us sick.

So far, the president’s performance has been mixed – with some deliveries on the promise and some disappointments. His last year, whether in office or in his first term, will be crucial in righting his spotty record and making good on his campaign promises to the American people.

"It's like hell. Living in hell," says Marti Blake, when asked about being neighbors with a coal-fired power plant. "It's filthy, it's dirty, it's noisy, it's unhealthy."

For the past 21 years, Blake has lived across the street from the Cheswick Generating Station in Springdale, PA. A family situation left her trying to find a place quickly, and a simple brick home in the small town only 20 minutes from Pittsburgh seemed fine.

This Friday, the Obama administration has the historic opportunity to rein in a coal industry that has been allowed to pour toxic emissions like mercury, benzene and arsenic into our lives without limit.

There’s little question that the administration will set limits – the law requires it and the courts have ordered it. The question, and the opportunity facing Obama, is how strong those limits will be.

The Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, FY 2012 (H.R. 2584) is chock-full of riders that protect polluters, not people. This bill makes excessive budget cuts and policy decisions that compromise public health, especially the health of environmental justice communities already disproportionately impacted by pollution. The outrageous cuts have brought together more than 70 groups on a letter to outright oppose H.R.

 It’s a shame that it took the House days and many late night and early morning hours to come up with a budget plan like this. And during the wee hours of 4:35 a.m. the final roll call counted a vote of 235 to 189. And just like that our elected leaders eliminated safeguards for our air, water and wildlife.

Pages