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Backtracking on Clean Air
from the Daily Mis-lead
December 6, 2003

Tuesday, 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 dual proposal."

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.

Posted: December 7, 2003


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