Supporters of Stronger Mercury Controls Claim Moral Victory

Vote on mercury shows industry influence on nation's public-health policy


James Cox or Cat Lazaroff, 202-667-4500

Supporters of stronger controls on sources of toxic mercury and other toxic power-plant emissions came within inches of scoring a major victory in their campaign to keep harmful toxic pollutants out of our air and water. The narrow, 51-47 loss underscores the degree to which our nation’s health policy has been hijacked by polluters and industry special interests.

EPA flip-flopped in March 2005 when it tried to reverse a rule it released in December 2000 listing electric power plants as a source of toxic mercury and other pollutants subject to the air-toxics provisions of the Clean Air Act. According to those provisions, electric power plants are required to install pollution control equipment that would result in the maximum achievable reduction in toxic mercury and other toxic emissions.

In March, EPA changed its position and attempted to remove power plants from the list of sources of mercury and other air-toxics. EPA sought to impose an alternative “cap-and-trade” proposal that would result in the release of far more mercury for far longer than the law allows. The cap-and-trade approach would also result in local and regional mercury “hot spots,” where mercury pollution would far exceed federal health standards.

The Leahy-Collins-Snowe resolution would have required EPA to go back to the drawing board and write a rule for controlling toxic mercury and other toxics from power plants that would comply with the law, and that would reduce toxic emissions far sooner than EPA’s flawed cap-and-trade rule.

“The narrow margin of this vote sends a strong message to polluters that stronger mercury controls are on the horizon,” said Jim Cox, Legislative Counsel for Earthjustice. “Our clean air and clean water are simply not for sale.”

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that causes mental retardation, developmental deficiencies and motor impairment in children. One-in-six women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their bodies to damage the children they may conceive. Mercury has also been found to cause in increase in the rate of heart attacks in adult men. Mercury enters the food chain when smokestack mercury is deposited in rivers, streams and coastal waters, and accumulates in the seafood we eat.

Although the Leahy-Collins-Snowe resolution failed to attract the support of a majority of senators, the Bush administration’s flawed rule remains in jeopardy in the courts, where 15 states and a number of environmental groups—some of which are represented by Earthjustice—have sued EPA to force the agency to reverse its plan to remove electric power plants from the list of sources of mercury and other toxic pollutants.

“Once again, the courts will be the last line of defense against an illegal rule that would leave many thousands of Americans unprotected against toxic pollution,” said Cox.


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