WASHINGTON -- March 14 -- The Bush administration this week is expected to finalize its rule on mercury emissions from power plants, making formal a plan that allows three times more mercury pollution than simple enforcement of our current clean air laws allows and delay cleanup for a decade longer.
"The Bush administration's rule values profits for a few rather than public health for everyone," Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope stated. "We know that for every six women of childbearing age in the US, one of them has mercury levels in her blood high enough to put her baby at risk. Signing a policy that allows three times more mercury pollution into our air than strong enforcement of the Clean Air Act permits is irresponsible and fails those who are most susceptible to harm from pollution -- our children."
The Bush administration is delaying full reductions in mercury emissions for decades longer than is possible. According to the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) own estimates, we have affordable technologies available right now that can reduce mercury by 90 percent. Additionally, the EPA found that existing and emerging technologies could eliminate most of the mercury from utilities and would cost less than one percent of the utility industry revenues.
The EPA Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office have both highlighted serious deficiencies in the administration's mercury rule. The EPA's Inspector General last month revealed that the Bush administration overlooked health effects and sided with the utility industry in developing these rules.
The new policy includes a cap-and-trade program that allows some power plants to buy or sell mercury pollution credits. Allowing individual power plants to acquire pollution credits rather than reduce emissions would have the effect of creating local "hot spots" and expose local residents to unsafe levels mercury. The facilities that will reap the benefits of this trading scheme are old, coal-fired power plants, the single largest unregulated source of mercury pollution in the United States.
"The cap-and-trade approach sounds great unless you are one of those people who lives near a power plant that chooses to spend money on paper credits instead of making real mercury reductions," explained Pope.
More importantly, the health of millions of Americans will be put at risk, especially pregnant women and children. In March 2004, the Food and Drug Administration and EPA, for the first time, combined their advice into a draft advisory warning pregnant women against eating certain types of mercury-laden fish and to limit their consumption of others. Forty-five states and territories had fish advisories for local waterways in 2003.
Mercury is a developmental toxin primarily affecting fetal development. In unborn children, it can influence the development of the brain and nervous system. When infants are exposed to toxic mercury, the result can be extremely dangerous and can cause delays in walking, talking, and fine motor skills.
Last year, the EPA concluded that unborn children have much higher levels of mercury in their blood than [in their mother's blood. As a result of these findings, EPA had to double the number of babies it estimated were born each year with unsafe levels of mercury, meaning approximately 630,000 newborns are at risk every year.
"During the public comment period for this rule, more than half a million Americans urged the Bush administration to start cleaning up toxic mercury pollution from power plants as soon as possible, generating a record number of public comments," Pope says. "It's disappointing that the administration chose to ignore the people in developing this mercury policy."
To reach an expert on this issue for a phone or camera interview, please call Eric Antebi at (415) 977-5747.