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EPA Power Plant Rule Fails to Protect Public Health

Pollution limits for mercury don't meet Clean Air Act requirements
March 15, 2005

Coal power station
Photo by David Parsons
Washington DC — 
The air pollution rule issued today by EPA fails to comply with Clean Air Act requirements that all toxic emissions from power plants, including mercury, must be reduced by the maximum amount achievable, according to Earthjustice.

"To benefit polluters, EPA has broken the law," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew. "Not only does EPA's rule seek to allow power plants to avoid cleaning up the majority of their toxic mercury emissions, it tries to give them a get-out-of-jail-free card for thousands upon thousands of tons of other toxic chemicals that are currently not subject to any emission standards whatsoever."

Mercury is a harmful neurotoxin that has been found to stall the development of children's brains, both in and out of the womb. Every year 630,000 babies are born in America with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. More than 40 states have issued fish advisories due to mercury contamination in some or all their state's waters. Coal-burning electric power plants emit vast quantities of toxic air pollution; not only have they been found to be the largest unregulated source of mercury pollution but they also emit more than 80 tons per year of lead, and more than 70 tons per year of arsenic.

"The Bush administration's EPA utterly failed in its job of protecting public health and the environment in issuing this regulation, and instead chose to pander to the energy industry," said Earthjustice Legislative Counsel Jim Cox. "This rule leaves millions of Americans at risk from toxic pollution in the air they breathe, the water they drink, and the fish they eat."

Recent reports by both the EPA Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have criticized the Bush administration for politicizing the process of drafting this rule. The Inspector General found that the Bush administration's political appointees that hold top-management positions within EPA had unlawfully instructed EPA's career staff to "work backwards" from a pre-determined mercury emissions cap that the political appointees had decided upon. The cap was identical to the mercury reduction co-benefits resulting from the recently finalized Clean Air Interstate Rule. The Inspector General's report then recommended that EPA conduct an "unbiased analysis" of the facts, and issue a new rule "in accordance with the requirements of the [Clean Air Act]."

"In plain language," said Pew, "the Inspector General told EPA to go back to the drawing board and try writing a rule that doesn't violate the Clean Air Act." Additionally, many Members of Congress have sent letters to EPA requesting additional studies and strong protective limits on mercury pollution -- requests that EPA has refused to answer.

"In drafting its proposal to control toxic pollution from power plants, the Bush EPA ignored the law, ignored sound science, ignored Congress, and ignored the public," said Earthjustice Legislative Associate Maria Weidner. "It seems only corporate polluters have the Bush administration's ear."

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Contact:
Jim Pew, Jim Cox or Maria Weidner, 202-667-4500