MAC: Mines and Communities

Doctors, Nurses, Labor, Faith Groups Slam EPA Mercury Plan

Published by MAC on 2004-03-17

Thousands of children each year suffer "learning disabilities" as a result of mercury exposure - the largest single source of which is coal-fired power plants. But instead of enforcing the Clean Air Act, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now proposes a "cap and trade" regime which, according to critics, won't substantially reduce deadly emissions for another 15 years. Moreover, the EPA top brass (appointed by Bush) are ignoring the findings of their own researchers.

Doctors, Nurses, Labor, Faith Groups Slam EPA Mercury Plan

Environmental News Service (ENS)

March 17, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC, A coalition of medical, nursing, public health, labor, and religious organizations representing millions of Americans are speaking out in opposition to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) new mercury rule because it threatens children's health. The policy position was announced Tuesday in Washington by Physicians for Social Responsibility, a national public health advocacy organization.

The Washington news conference coincided with local news events in at least eight cities across the country, as part of a formal kickoff to nationwide opposition to the EPA's mercury proposal. Coalition member organizations include the American Nurses Association, the National Council of Churches, and the Service Employees International Union.

Former EPA Administrator Carol Browner, who served in the Clinton administration, joined the coalition in criticizing the proposed mercury rule. "The public has a right to know about the health impacts of EPA's pollution proposals. There is increasing evidence that EPA failed to honor this right when it proposed the mercury rule," said Browner.

Browner and the coalition called for the EPA's mercury rule to be withdrawn until a full analysis of all the mercury reduction alternatives is completed and made public. "The public deserves a mercury rule that fully protects children's health," Browner said.

The EPA's proposed Utility Mercury Reductions Rule would permanently cap mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants as part of a wider cap-and-trade plan to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and mercury from utilities.

Under the cap-and-trade approach proposed in its December 15, 2003, rule, the EPA would allocate to each state specified amounts of emission allowances for mercury, which essentially caps mercury emissions. The states would allocate those allowances to utilities.

A utility must hold sufficient allowances to cover its emissions each year, so the limited number of allowances is intended to ensure that the required reductions are achieved. Utilities may sell or bank their excess emission allowances, providing them with an incentive to reduce mercury emissions.

The mandatory emissions caps, coupled with significant automatic penalties for noncompliance, would ensure that human health and environmental goals would be achieved and sustained, the EPA states.

In addition, part of the proposed rule requires utilities to install maximum achievable control technologies under the Clean Air Act. If implemented, this alternative would reduce nationwide emissions of mercury by 14 tons, 29 percent, by the end of 2007, from 48 tons to 34 tons annually, according to the EPA.

See the EPA's proposal, learn about public hearings and submit comments online at: Public comments are due by April 30.

"Shocking negligence"

But the coalition says that just implementing the Clean Air Act would drop mercury emissions 90 percent by 2008, while the EPA's proposal would delay reductions of mercury emissions from power plants for 15 years or longer.

"The shocking negligence of EPA's mercury rule is why organizations representing millions of Americans are coming out against the rule today," said Susan West Marmagas, M.P.H., director of environmental and health programs with Physicians for Social Responsibility.

"Studies show that more than 60,000 children a year may suffer from learning disabilities caused by mercury exposures before birth. This is a travesty that can be prevented with proper action by our government. We must make our children's health a priority," said Barbara Blakeney, president of theAmerican Nurses Association.

"EPA should drop its proposed rule, and instead, comply with the Clean Air Act by requiring a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions by 2008," Marmagas said.

Marmagas was appointed by the Bush administration to serve on the EPA's Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee. In January 2004, the committee sent a letter to EPA Administrator

Michael Leavitt stating that the proposal "does not sufficiently protect our nation's children," and urged Leavitt to strengthen it.

Despite this unprecedented opposition by its own advisors, EPA last week sent the committee a letter indicating that the cap-and-trade proposal will move forward.

According to EPA's 1999 National Emissions Inventory, coal fired electric power plants are the largest source of human caused mercury air emissions in the United States, accounting for about 40 percent of the total. Other large sources are industrial boilers, about 10 percent, the burning of hazardous waste about five percent, and chlorine production, about five percent.

The Natural Resources Defense Council website now offers detailed state maps indicating major sources of mercury pollution and specific state fish consumption advisories due to mercury contamination. Find it online at:

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