Friday, February 04, 2005

Bush White House to EPA to kids: Drop Dead


The Bush administration overlooked health effects and sided with the electric industry in developing rules for cutting toxic mercury pollution, the Environmental Protection Agency's inspector general said Thursday.

The agency fell short of its own requirements and presidential orders by "not fully analyzing the cost-benefit of regulatory alternatives and not fully assessing the rule's impact on children's health," the agency's internal watchdog said in a 54-page report.

Nikki L. Tinsley's report said the EPA based its mercury pollution limits on an analysis submitted by Western Energy Supply and Transmission Associates, a research and advocacy group representing 17 coal-fired utilities in eight Western states.

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set the limits based on the most advanced pollution controls used by industry. Tinsley said agency workers were instructed by "EPA senior management" to develop a standard compared with other regulations and a White House legislative plan, "instead of basing the standard on an unbiased determination" of the limits.
Mercury from power plants settles in waterways and accumulates in fish. The toxic metal can cause neurological and developmental problems, particularly in fetuses and young children. It also is being studied for risks associated with cardiovascular diseases.

Sen. Jim Jeffords and six Democratic senators asked Tinsley in April to investigate how the EPA put together the mercury rule it proposed in December 2003.

"Unfortunately, this report confirms that the administration's proposal to regulate mercury compromises children's health for the benefit of corporate profits," said Jeffords, an independent from Vermont.

The Food and Drug Administration has warned that high levels of mercury in some fish, including albacore tuna, can pose a hazard for children and for women pregnant or nursing.

The EPA estimates that about 8 percent of American women of childbearing age have enough mercury in their blood to put a fetus at risk.

An even harsher indictment of the EPA approach comes from, believe it or not, Chemical & Engineering News

The Clean Air Act requires that emissions standards be based on “maximum achievable control technology” for each regulated pollutant, the report notes, and EPA was supposed to set the mercury standard based on how much is removed from smokestacks by the top 12% of the cleanest burning coal-fired power plants.

The report recommends that EPA reanalyze its data on the least polluting power plants before finalizing the rule, which is expected in March. EPA strongly disagrees and intends to move ahead and finalize the mercury regulation, it says in comments. Utility groups and some in Congress also criticize the report, saying the OIG lacks sufficient expertise and has become politicized.

States and environmental groups have said all along that the EPA proposal is flawed. They point to research showing that reductions twice those cited by the EPA proposal were obtainable by the top 12% of power plants.

Coal-fired power plants emit 48 tons of mercury annually and are the largest U.S. source of anthropogenic mercury. Federal agencies estimate that 600,000 U.S. children born each year have learning deficits from mercury exposure.


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