Senate Bid to Reject Bush Mercury Rule Narrowly Fails

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Environment Colorado

DENVER—The U.S. Senate today fell just shy of invoking the rarely-used Congressional Review Act to overturn a Bush administration rule granting power plants an extra 10-20 years to reduce their mercury pollution. The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to void federal agency rules and has been successfully used only once before. The “resolution of disapproval” (S.J.Res.20) failed on a bipartisan vote of 47-51, with nine Republicans supporting the resolution. Senator Salazar supported the resolution, but Senator Allard did not.

“The Bush administration’s rule is harmful, illegal, and contrary to common sense,” said Pam Kiely of Environment Colorado. “Mercury can affect the way children think, learn, and grow, causing problems ranging from learning disabilities to mental retardation. We need a solution now, not a generation from now.”

“We commend Senator Salazar for working to protect our children’s health,” Kiely said. “We are sorely disappointed that Senator Allard cleared the way for this dangerous rule to go forward. Fortunately, this is not the end of the matter. We expect the Bush administration’s rule will be overturned in the courts, where special interests cannot trump the law.”

The resolution, sponsored by Senators Leahy (VT), Collins (ME), and Snowe (ME), would have voided a March 2005 Bush administration rule that declares mercury emissions from power plants “do not pose hazards to public health” and rescinds a 2000 EPA finding that these emissions are so potentially damaging that they require the strictest limits under the Clean Air Act – the maximum achievable reductions within three years after the regulation is finalized, or about a 90% reduction by 2008. This cleared the way for the second, industry-favored “cap-and-trade” rule that delays mercury-specific controls until at least 2018 and lets power plants buy and trade the right to pollute.

The White House responded to the impending Senate vote yesterday by issuing a rare veto threat.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can affect the brain, heart, and immune system. Developing fetuses and children are especially at risk; even low-level exposure to mercury can cause learning disabilities, developmental delays, lowered IQ, and problems with attention and memory. EPA scientists estimate that one in six women has enough mercury in her body to put her child at risk should she become pregnant.

The primary pathway for human exposure to mercury is by eating fish. Colorado has mercury-related fish consumption advisories covering 17,105 acres of lakes.

Power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the U.S., contributing 41 percent of the total each year. Technologies to reduce mercury emissions have been used on municipal and medical waste incinerators for nearly a decade and have been successfully demonstrated on all major types of coal in numerous full-scale tests at coal-fired power plants, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“With effective, affordable mercury controls already available, there is no excuse for power plants to keep pumping toxic mercury into our environment,” Kiely said. “We know how to solve the problem. We just need the will to ensure mercury cuts in this decade, as the Clean Air Act requires, instead of years into the future.”