EPA Move on Mercury Levels Criticized

Proposal seen as increasing mercury levels emitted by coal-fired power plants

Published: 04-Dec-2003

id=text>Washington - A Bush administration proposal on mercury pollution was defended by the White House yesterday but criticized by Democratic presidential candidates as an example of protecting industry at the expense of public health.

The regulation drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency would allow power plant owners to postpone, in some cases for as long as a decade, requirements that they install specific technology designed to reduce mercury pollution.

It would allow utilities to meet mercury reduction targets over the next six years from "co-benefits" as a result of installing pollution controls that are being put in anyway to help prevent smog and acid rain.

This would reduce mercury emissions by about 34 tons per year, or 30 percent, by 2010, the EPA estimates. Critics said that's only about a third of the reductions that could be achieved under a 2000 Clinton administration proposal that would have required the best mercury controls be installed at every plant by 2008.

The more stringent requirements, which could be achieved only by mercury-specific pollution controls, would not kick in until 2018 under the Bush administration proposal. The plan also would allow utilities to buy pollution credits if mercury reductions at some plants are determined to be too expensive.

"We believe a tough, mandatory cap with trading offers promise for greater reductions in mercury emissions over a longer period," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

Four Democratic presidential candidates - retired general Wesley Clark, former Vermont governor Howard Dean and Sens. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and John Edwards of North Carolina - criticized the administration for jeopardizing public health to help electric utilities. The top congressional Democrats, Sen. Tom Daschle of South Dakota and Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, accused the administration of favoring special interest and corporate profits over public health.

Carol Browner, head of the EPA during the Clinton administration, directed in late 2000 that mercury be regulated as a toxic, hazardous substance requiring utilities to install "maximum achievable control technology" at each of nearly 500 coal-fired plants. After George W. Bush took office, the utilities challenged the Browner policy in court. That suit is pending.

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