Friends -- Please make sure your organization is represented on the letter below, telling the EPA that their proposed mercury plan falls far short of what's achievable and necessary to protect public health. I've included a brief backgrounder on the issue, and below that the letter to EPA Administrator Leavitt. Please email me your name, title, organization name, and city by noon today, April 28, 2004. Thanks in advance for your help!
Mercury is a dangerous toxic metal that can cause severe neurological and developmental problems in unborn fetuses and young children whose brains are still developing. People are exposed to mercury mainly by eating contaminated fish. The EPA and forty-three states, including Michigan, have now issued advisories warning people, especially women and children, to avoid or limit eating certain fish because of mercury. But even with these warnings, the EPA estimates that 1 out of 6 U.S. women of childbearing age have potentially unsafe levels of mercury in their blood due to fish consumption. The best way to protect women and children from mercury is to eliminate it from its largest source: power plants.
Coal-fired plants are the nation's largest uncontrolled source of toxic mercury, emitting approximately 48 tons each year in the nation. Michigan’s coal fired power plants emit nearly 2500 lbs of mercury pollution annually. According to the Environmental Defense, Michigan ranks second in the nation for mercury "hot spots" - areas where mercury deposition is exceptionally high.
Smokestacks spew mercury pollution into the air, where it rains and snows down into our waterways, accumulating in fish and making them unsafe to eat. Amazingly, power plants have yet to be regulated for mercury pollution under federal clean air standards.After years of work by us and other public health advocates, the EPA is now under a deadline to reduce the dangers of mercury from power plants.
Two years ago, the EPA's own scientists said current technologies could achieve a 90 percent reduction of mercury from power plants. But the electric and coal industries are pressing hard to avoid limiting their mercury emissions.
The EPA's initial proposal was not only too weak to protect public health, but it reclassifies mercury so that it's not considered a "toxic pollutant," despite long-standing, clear evidence of mercury's effects as a developmental toxin. This will allow the EPA to avoid requiring power plants to use the best available technology to reduce emissions, as stipulated by the Clean Air Act.
The public comment period on the EPA proposal ends Friday, April 30.
April 28, 2004
The Honorable Michael O. Leavitt
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
EPA Docket Center (EPA/DC)
Attention Docket ID No. OAR-2002-0056
Dear Administrator Leavitt:
For more than three decades, the Clean Air Act has improved public health and protected the environment. We, the undersigned environmental and public health advocacy organizations (list will reflect actual signers), strongly support the Clean Air Act and are writing to urge you to take prompt and effective action, consistent with the Act’s requirements to clean up mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) current proposals to regulate mercury from utilities fall far short of what the law requires, and they fail to protect the health of our children and our environment. We ask you to carry out the requirements of the Clean Air Act and fulfill your agency’s duty to issue strong nationally applicable power plant air toxic regulations.
In January, EPA proposed three alternatives to address hazardous air pollutant emissions from coal- and oil-fired plants. Unfortunately, these proposals do not meet the Clean Air Act’s requirements for cleaning up air toxics. For example, all of EPA’s proposals permit far more mercury pollution, and for years longer, than the Clean Air Act allows, while failing to address over sixty other hazardous air pollutants from power plants - like dioxin and arsenic - that present an indisputable danger.
The toxicity of mercury has been proven time and again by scientists around the world. EPA’s own scientists just released an analysis estimating that 630,000 infants born in the United States each year may be at risk of irreversible harm from mercury exposure in the womb – including lowered intelligence, learning disabilities, and vision and hearing problems. This number is a doubling of previous estimates. In adults, mercury can cause irreversible damage to the brain and cardiovascular system, as well as reduce fertility. Mercury contamination in our lakes and streams is sufficient to have caused 43 states and one U.S. territory to issue advisories cautioning people, particularly pregnant women and children against eating certain types of fish, and warning America’s 41 million recreational anglers that the fish they catch may not be safe to eat. Like pregnant women and children, subsistence fishermen remain at high risk from the effects of mercury-tainted fish.
We can address this serious public health problem that threatens our quality of life. According to many states, industry experts, and past EPA analyses, precombustion practices and technology that would dramatically reduce mercury emissions and satisfy legal requirements are available and cost-effective. Annual mercury pollution from power plants could be reduced from 48 tons today, to just 5 tons beginning in late 2007. Additionally, greater demand for the processes, technology and equipment that remove mercury from smokestacks will not only lower the cost of emissions reductions, but would benefit U.S. jobs and our economy.
We are also concerned that your preferred proposal would allow the trading of mercury credits. While a “cap and trade” program may be effective and appropriate for non-toxic air pollutants, it is not permitted by section 112(d) of the Clean Air Act for hazardous air pollutants. A trading scheme would allow dirty power plants to continue to emit high levels of mercury by simply purchasing credits from cleaner plants, while further endangering the health of surrounding communities.
As the Administrator of the EPA, you have a duty to fulfill the requirements of the Act related to toxic power plant emissions. The newest scientific studies show that controlling mercury emissions works; surrounding communities and aquatic ecosystems almost immediately benefit from toxic emissions reductions. We urge you to finalize a rule as quickly as possible that meets the requirements of the law, and that does not delay the relief our children and communities need from exposure to toxic power plant pollution. The risks to the health of future generations of Americans, and the associated costs that will be borne by our families and communities far outweigh the cost to utilities of requiring emissions reductions based on the maximum achievable control technologies.
We look forward to supporting your efforts to develop standards that protect the health of women, children, and our communities as quickly as possible.