Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Senate Backs Bush (obo Utility Industry), Failing To Overturn Mercury Emissions Rules

The Senate, by a 51-47 margin, defeated a challenge to the Bush administration's strategy on mercury pollution, leaving intact Environmental Protection Agency rules established in March that give power plants flexibility in how they reduce emissions of the dangerous toxin.

Supporters of the repeal argued the strategy was too slow and too weak in dealing with a pollutant that can cause serious neurological damage to newborn and young children. Environmentalists said they would continue to fight the rule via the courts. The EPA has been sued by 15 states and various environmental groups in an effort to reverse the strategy.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), was co-sponsored by 29 Democrats, Independent James Jeffords of Vermont, and Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine. Had the Democrats voted en masse, the bill would have passed. In the final vote, 37 Democrats, nine Republicans and Jeffords voted in favor. Voting against: 46 Republicans and five Democrats. Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) did not vote.

But, even if the Senate had come through, the White House insisted that President Bush would veto any legislation that overturned the EPA rules.

''In reality this is a political exercise in futility,'' Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) told the Associated Press. ''Who in this chamber would truly believe that the president would sign legislation to repeal his own administration's rule?''

And with that defeatist attitude, Inhofe voted against the legislation.


The administration rules, backed by the utility industry, set a cap on mercury emissions. But individual plants, through a cap-and-trade system, can avoid cleanups by buying pollution credits from plants that are under allowable levels.

The rules reversed an EPA position established in 2000 that list electric power plants as a source of toxic mercury and other pollutants subject to the air-toxics provisions of the Clean Air Act. According to those provisions, electric power plants are required to install pollution control equipment that would result in the maximum achievable reduction in toxic mercury and other toxic emissions.

The Bush Administration, following its "industry-over-individual" (aka "pro-business") approach playbook, created the rules following heavy lobbying from utility concerns.

"The rule wasn't even written by the EPA -- it was written on K Street," Jeffords said last year, referring to the Washington street lined with lobbyist offices. "The Bush Administration has lost sight of its obligation to protect public health and safeguard the natural environment."

In public sessions last year New York State environmental chief Peter Lehner said the proposed rules are "far too lax" and take effect too late to protect public health. Lehner also said the rules were "fundamentally flawed" for ignoring the fact that coal-fired plants are the nation's largest producers of CO2. The Bush administration and the power industry's lobbying organizations have opposed mandates to cut CO2 emissions.

"The proposed emission standards do not appear to be based on sound science or technology -- but rather on politics -- a vehicle to enable the administration to claim that it is reducing emissions without requiring the power companies to depart from 'business as usual,'" said Lehner.


Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that causes mental retardation, developmental deficiencies and motor impairment in children. One-in-six women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their bodies to damage the children they may conceive. Mercury has also been found to cause in increase in the rate of heart attacks in adult men.

Mercury enters the food chain when smokestack mercury is deposited in rivers, streams and coastal waters, and accumulates in the seafood we eat.


What now?

Environmentalists are hoping for a victory via the courts.

“Once again, the courts will be the last line of defense against an illegal rule that would leave many thousands of Americans unprotected against toxic pollution,” said Jim Cox, Legislative Counsel for environmental group Earthjustice.


Anonymous MintOreoCookie said...

This infuriates me! What 5 democrats voted against the measure?

My husband works for the Dept. of Justice in the Environmental Enforcement Division, so I hear first hand about all this crap. George W. Bush is the WORST environmental president ever! I wish everyone understood the negative effects that mercury and emissions from coal-fired power plants have on people of all ages! Grrrrrr

11:29 AM  
Anonymous Mass said...

Coal states. campaign contributions were more important than health issues.


Particularly infuriating as 8 republicans voted with the democrats.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous mainegreen said...

Us New Englanders should be allowed to truck some mercury to the mid west and dump it in all the drinking water resevoirs, just to be fair.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous MintOreoCookie said...

What a disappointment.

I am happy to hear that 8 repubs were against the measure.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous sinkingfeeling said...

Currently on hold with Sen. Pryor's office while they go to find out why he voted against the bill!! I asked what his motivation was in voting to allow unsafe levels of mercury. The aid just said that Sen. Pryor didn't believe the bill would restrict the mercury soon enough and that the EPA rules are just as good!! I'm giving them argument.

2:12 PM  
Anonymous MintOreoCookie said...

Oh that is totally bogus! Bush is doing everything he can to dismantle the EPA. Give them hell!

2:12 PM  
Anonymous Mass said...

LOL- what a BS

2:13 PM  
Blogger HonestJournalism said...

Oh, please! Listen to yourselves. It's laughable.

I watched the floor debate and saw the deposition maps. Most of the mercury deposited in the U.S. comes from sources other than power plants. Much comes from Canada and China. It's ironic that the Northeastern senators promoted this resolution given the fact that with or without the Bush rule or any mercury regulation, deposition levels would remain the same. The health argument hinges on deposition in lakes, rivers and the oceans. That's the whole idea behind the claims of tainted seafood. New England barely sees a change - if any - in deposition levels even if power plant sources are completely eliminated.

What Leahy et al want - aside from making a political statement - is a plan that would drive up natural gas prices and move jobs to places with much less stringent environmental rules than the U.S. So how would that solve the GLOBAL mercury problem? Higher energy prices, manufacturers out of work, and mercury still drifting into this country.

Sounds real promising, doesn't it?

Senator Collins has a long history with this issue. She criticized the Clinton Administration in the '90s because the Browner EPA was withholding a Congressionally-mandated study on mercury for three years after it was due. Why?

Apparently because of pressure against the Clintons from the seafood and power sectors.

By your standards, they weren't quite the crusaders you might have wished - and thought - they were. It's in the Portland papers back then.

7:01 AM  

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