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E-M:/ GAO criticizes EPA on mercury releases to Great Lakes

Title: GAO criticizes EPA on mercury releases to Great Lakes

Environmental Science & Technology

Policy News -
September 28, 2005

Great Lakes are suffering

EPA lacks a plan to control the most prevalent toxic in the Great Lakes: mercury releases.

The U.S. EPA could do more to ensure that states protect the eight Great Lakes, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) notes in a new report. At the request of several members of Congress, GAO analysts reviewed how successful the states bordering the lakes and EPA officials have been in implementing the Great Lakes Initiative (GLI), a federal program designed to control toxic releases and protect aquatic life and wildlife.

GLI itself has some drawbacks, the analysts found, primarily because it asks states to regulate only point sources, whereas nonpoint sources, such as air deposition and agriculture runoff, produce more pollution. The program also asks states to control bioaccumulative chemicals that are already restricted or banned, GAO writes in EPA Needs to Better Ensure the Complete and Consistent Implementation of Water Quality Standards.

At the same time, EPA has given states a great deal of flexibility, including permit variances that allow manufacturers to release pollutants at levels far above GLI's standards. The agency also hasn't produced a strategy to control mercury as requested by Congress in 1990, resulting in a hodgepodge of state-initiated schemes. This approach doesn't meet the GLI recommendation of consistent controls for all pollutants, particularly for mercury, which is a prevalent pollutant in the lakes.

The report recommends that EPA issue a mercury permitting strategy, fully develop the partially operating GLI Clearinghouse to allow states to share pollution control data, and collect information on the success of current schemes designed to control releases into the Great Lakes.

EPA officials responded to the GAO report, saying they disagree with the findings regarding mercury. Although EPA drafted a GLI mercury reduction plan, it was never issued, EPA officials told GAO, because the agency "perceived a general lack of public interest," GAO writes