Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Fretting Mercury

Kai Ryssdahl over at American Public Media's Marketplace (from September 13) put the Senate's vote on mercury in rather stark terms in the opening to the show:

Kai Ryssdahl: Step outside for a minute, or roll down the car window. Good. Now, take a deep breath. Careful, though, cos you never know what's in the air you breath. The Senate today lets industry decide.

After the opening music and an introduction comparing environmentalists to your Mom freaking out after discovering you, as a kid, playing with mercury from a broken thermometer, he continues into the story:

Ryssdahl: The Senate has voted to keep an EPA rule on how much mercury coal-fired power plants can put out. Marketplace's Scott Tong reports that is just what industry wanted.

Tong: The rule that survived gives industry 20 years to cut mercury emissions by 7 percent--not good enough for Democratic Senator Pat Leahy from Vermont. He wants 90 percent reductions in three years.
The EPA says blood mercury levels in women today put 15 percent of babies at risk. But Republican Senator Jim Inhofe has his own math. He says tighter regulation would cost the industry $358 billion. The EPA's current rule lets power plants buy and sell emissions credits, a market-based system that worked for acid rain.

Man, I love Marketplace. They've got some very interesting business-angled coverage and as well as some sharp, pointed writing and good radio reporters. I do miss the old host, David Brown, but Kai is certainly doing a good job in his early days as the main host (he's also got quite an interesting background). Anyhoo, here's some more background from the Boston Globe on this mercury vote:

The debate highlighted two very different approaches to environmental protection. The administration rules, backed by the utility industry, would set a nationwide cap on mercury emissions and put a ceiling on allowable pollution for each state. But individual plants, through a cap-and-trade system, can avoid cleanups by buying pollution credits from plants that are under allowable levels.

The utility industry says this method was successful in reducing acid rain in the 1990s.

But opponents say the rules are weak and would prolong a health risk that leaves newborns vulnerable to birth defects and mental retardation.

The EPA rules violate the Clean Air Act, said Senator James Jeffords, an independent from Vermont. ''The rule is plainly illegal. It is unwise, and it is definitely unhealthy for Americans living downwind of coal-fired power plants, especially mothers and their soon-to-be-born children."

Mercury pollutants work their way up the food chain after being absorbed by fish.
The sponsors of the resolution, Senators Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Susan M. Collins, Republican of Maine, turned to a little-used 1996 law that allows Congress to challenge agency rules with a guaranteed floor vote. The law has been successfully invoked only once, when Congress in 2001 repealed Clinton administration regulations on workplace ergonomics.

By repealing the EPA rules, the Senate would compel the agency to rewrite them. The revisions would be in line with Clean Air Act standards requiring the use of the best available technology to reduce mercury emissions.


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