WASHINGTON - September 13 - Today, the Senate rejected a resolution introduced under the Congressional Review Act by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Olympia Snowe (R-ME) to disapprove the portion of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that exempts power plants from being regulated as a source of toxic pollution. By a vote of 47-51, the Senate voted against the resolution.
"Forty-seven Senators sent a message to the EPA that it should produce a rule to better protect women and children from the harmful health effects of mercury pollution," said Mund. "They join the 15 states and numerous health and environmental groups that are suing EPA to block this weak program."
The Congressional Review Act provides a specific procedure for Congress to disapprove of any regulatory decision by an executive agency. Specifically, it provides an expedited legislative process for such a proposal, including the chance for a floor vote in the Senate on the issue. It has only been used successfully once, making passage a long shot.
"This was a close, bi-partisan vote. A bare majority of Senators put polluters before the public, leaving women and children at risk," Mund said.
In March of this year, the EPA finalized a set of rules that attempts to put weak controls in place to reduce mercury pollution from power plants. Rather than enforcing the Clean Air Act's directive to put strong control on all toxic pollution from power plants, the EPA has taken power plants off the list of sources of toxic pollutants, and instead has created a pollution trading scheme that takes far longer to get fewer reductions than appropriate enforcement of the law.
Despite the Senate voting against the resolution, many states continue to lead the way with plans to crack down on mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants. When the EPA announced its plan to make the mercury problem worse, Attorney Generals in fifteen states filed a joint lawsuit to challenge that rule and defend public health.
"States like New Jersey have already made rules to clean up mercury by 90 percent," said Mund. "Why can't the federal government take the lead and act now? We shouldn't waste time, exposing another generation of children to dangerous mercury pollution."
Mercury is a potent developmental poison. The EPA estimates that one in six women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their blood to put their babies at risk of mercury poisoning. That equates to more than 600,000 children at risk a year. Coal burning power plants are the largest source of mercury pollution in the United States. The technology is available today to dramatically reduce that pollution at every single power plant, as much as 90% or more.
Unfortunately the EPA, bowing to pressure from industry, is letting these polluters off the hook for a decade or more. The EPA's plan gives polluters until 2018, or beyond, to make a serious dent in their mercury pollution, and does not require all the polluters to install mercury pollution control technology.