Panel Reviews How States Control Mercury Emmissions

Sen. Carper Holds Hearing to Push for Tougher National Mercury Pollution Regulation

Expert witnesses told the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety today the time has come for aggressive reductions in emissions of mercury, a neurotoxin responsible for serious health problems in children and pregnant women.

In 2005, the Bush Administration issued a mercury rule that would set up a cap-and-trade system to reduce mercury pollution by 70 percent by 2018. But that rule has come under attack by environmental and health organizations, as well as Clean Air Subcommittee Chairman Tom Carper, D-Del., for not going far enough, fast enough.

At the hearing Wednesday, Sen. Carper reiterated that technological advances in pollution controls would allow for a much more aggressive reduction of mercury emissions than proposed by the Bush Administration. In addition, Sen. Carper said the Administration’s mercury -and-trade program would not do enough to address the issue of mercury "hot spots," and that we need a mandatory reduction at each power plant to ensure adequately protection of American communities.

"Tighter mercury controls are achievable, affordable and reliable," said Sen. Carper. "The most vulnerable of our society, women and children, are going to pay the price if we don’t do more to clean up our mercury emissions."

Since the mercury rule’s adoption, many states have taken it upon themselves to create and enforce tougher mercury standards to protect the environment and citizens of their states. New state laws have filled the regulatory vacuum, left by the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency, with some 25 states now planning to go beyond the federal Clean Air Mercury Rule.

"We heard today at the hearing that many states – such as Illinois and New Jersey – are going above and beyond what the administration has proposed to do on mercury," said Sen. Carper. "But these states can’t do it on their own. We need federal legislation to mandate much stricter mercury reductions if we are to adequately protect the public health."

According to the testimony of Martha H. Keating, associate in research for the Children’s Environmental Health Initiative, "this patchwork approach is the wrong one for a national problem, especially for a pollutant where emissions from one state may affect citizens in other states."

In April, Sen. Carper introduced his Clean Air Planning Act of 2007 (CAPA), which would require a 90 percent reduction of mercury by 2015. This is a stringent, yet achievable, goal that will greatly reduce the risks this neurotoxin poses to children and pregnant women. In addition, the bill requires a 90 percent reduction at each individual power plant in order to address mercury "hot spots" and ensure that communities surrounding power plants are protected.

In addition, CAPA would restrict emissions of the harmful pollutants (nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide) that produce smog and acid rain. And, the legislation would set up a mandatory cap-and-trade program for utilities to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, which causes global warming.

"A multi-pollutant approach for controlling the emissions of mercury, SO2, and NOx from coal-fired power plants has numerous advantages over a traditional, single regulatory pollutant schemes," according to the testimony of Douglas P. Scott, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. "For example, a well- crafted, multi-pollutant standard can increase the protection of public health and the environment, reduce pollution more cost-effectively, and offer greater certainty to both industry and regulators."