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E-M:/ New rules proposed on toxic mercury - too little, too late

Enviro-Mich message from mowens@pirgim.org

For Immediate Release – Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Contacts – Megan Owens, 734-662-6597 or 734-730-5725, 
        or Kate Madigan, 517-485-5029

          Statement of PIRGIM Field Director, Megan Owens

Today the Bush Administration officially announced its proposal to
forego serious action to cut toxic mercury from power plants, the
largest source of this poison. The price for this act of political
cowardice will be paid by the tens of thousands of children who are
born with neurological illness as a result of exposure to mercury in
the womb. 

The pollution rule changes announced today in Cleveland by EPA
Administrator Mike Leavitt are a farce, waiting far too long and
doing far too little to protect public health. 

Similar to lead, mercury is a dangerous toxic chemical that causes
learning disabilities and neurological damage in children. Yet
instead of taking serious action to cut mercury, as was done with
lead, the Bush Administration is proposing only minor reductions and
waiting until 2018 when they may or may not implement more serious

Under the Clean Air Act of 1990, the EPA is required to cut emissions
of hazardous toxic pollutants to the maximum level achievable. The
EPA acknowledged in 2001 that a cut of 90% (from approximately 50 to
5 tons per year) is achievable – dozens of plants have already done
so. By contrast, today the EPA is proposing to allow the industry to
emit 34 tons per year until at least 2018, at which point they may or
may not require additional reductions. This level of emissions will
result allow for continuing accumulation of mercury in our
environment. More children with brain damage is the inevitable

Several recent studies have demonstrated the dangers of mercury: 
· EPA: Michigan has worst mercury hot spots in country. A report
released last week by Environmental Defense revealed unreleased EPA
data finding that Michigan is tied with Indiana for having the
nation’s worst mercury hot spots (locations where mercury deposition
is greatest). The EPA study also found that the majority (50-70%) of
this mercury came from local sources. 
· FDA: Tuna contains more mercury than previously thought.
Additionally, recent FDA fish test results show that mercury
contamination of canned tuna and other fish is more serious that
agency scientists previously believed; canned albacore tuna has
mercury levels twice as high as past FDA estimates. 

Governor Granholm has committed to phasing out mercury emissions by
2020. To move towards this goal, Michigan has a stakeholder forum
made up of industry, public health, and environmental stakeholders
meeting regularly to come up with a plan for meeting this phase-out
goal by aggressively reducing mercury emissions from power plants in
our state. The recommendations of this group will be completed in
March, with state action expected next year.

The other pollution rule changes the Administration proposed do by
regulation what they have not been able to get through Congress. 
Congress rejected the so-called “Clear Skies” plan because it does
far too little to protect public health and requires Americans to
wait far too long for the modest benefits it provides. 

We will work over the coming year to persuade the EPA to do better
for public health before the proposal becomes final. We hope that the
EPA will see the senselessness of sacrificing our children’s health
simple to protect its allies in the energy industry. 

                           # # #

PIRGIM is a non-profit, non-partisan organization working throughout
Michigan to preserve the environment, protect consumer and promote
democracy. More information is available at www.pirgim.org. 

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