Backtracking on Mercury Emissions
day, the Bush administration announced its interest in mercury
emissions, one day before President Bush asserted that "we all share duties
of stewardship." The administration's alternative, a cap-and-trade system
that was requested by the industry, would allow power plants to buy and sell
the right to emit mercury.
While this system already exists with sulfur dioxide, the environmental
community points out that pregnant women and young children are vulnerable
to mercury exposure, leading to developmental problems. About one out of
every 12 women (4.9 million) of childbearing age has unusually elevated
levels of mercury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention in Atlanta."
President Bush nominated Mike Leavitt to head the Environmental
Protection Agency while noting that it was important to be "vigilant in
protecting the air and soil and waters around us." Newly installed, on
the same day that he gave his introductory address to EPA employees,
Leavitt said of the changes, "Frankly, we're just not satisfied with the
level of reduction you get from the mercury MACT, so we're making the
But a December 2001 Power Point presentation, written by then EPA
administrator Christie Whitman, indicated that the proposed rules now
being overridden by the Bush administration would have reduced emissions
from the current 48 tons per year to 5 tons per year by 2007. The new
proposal Leavitt backs, however, calls for a reduction to 34 tons by
2010, and 15 tons by 2015, regulations that are "three times less
stringent and would take 10 years longer to achieve than reductions
critics say are required under the Clean Air Act."
Leavitt said of the new mercury standards, "If you care about clean air,
then what is there not to like?" Representatives of industry seem to agree,
saying of the new rule that their rules will "work a lot better." One
lawyer representing coal-fired plants suggested that, "The environmental
community has consistently overstated the health case for regulating
mercury." But his assertion is contradicted by the EPA's own website,
which says, "Methylmercury is highly toxic." More than 80 percent of states
have some kind of warnings on consuming fish because of mercury.
Continuing the administration's habit of releasing potentially controversial
environmental rules on the eve of holidays, the document was released the
day before Thanksgiving.
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