Bush administration hides reports on mercury risks while weakening mercury protections

provided by the Sierra Club

he Sierra Club called on the Bush Administration to immediately release a long-delayed report on the health risks children face from toxic mercury spewing from coal power plants. The Wall Street Journal's John Fialka reported that the Bush Administration for nine months delayed releasing an EPA report “warning that emissions of mercury by coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources poses an increasing health danger to young children.” (Fialka, Mercury Threat to Kids Rising, Unreleased EPA Report Warns, Wall St. Journal, 2/20/03)

    The holdup of information comes at a time when the Administration is simultaneously trying to weaken the Clean Air Act. The Bush Administration's so-called “Clear Skies” proposal would allow 200 percent more toxic mercury into the air than under the existing Clean Air Act.

    “Why is the Bush Administration sitting on news about the dangers of mercury from coal power plants?” asked Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. “Americans have sensible solutions to cut our use of coal and the toxic mercury that comes with it. The Bush Administration should be promoting real clean air protections instead of hiding information and weakening the Clean Air Act.”

    The EPA's hidden report warns mercury can cause mental retardation in babies. When coal is burned at power plants, mercury is released into the air and eventually falls back to earth through rain. The mercury then seeps into rivers, streams and lakes and can be absorbed by wildlife and humans where the toxin can cause serious damage to the nervous system. Many regions across the country warn pregnant women to avoid eating local fish because of high levels of mercury, which they can pass on to their to babies. According to the Wall St. Journal, the new EPA report also spells out the increased risk to children because they play outside and eat and drink more for their size.

    The Bush Administration's so-called “Clear Skies” initiative will weaken clean air safeguards protecting people from mercury and other pollutants. The Bush plan will result in 200 percent more toxic mercury than would be allowed under strong enforcement of existing clean air laws. Maintaining the Clean Air Act, strengthening enforcement, and promoting alternatives to coal power like wind and solar power would go much farther towards reducing mercury in our environment. The Administration should support the efforts of Sen. Jeffords (I-VT), Sen. Collins (R-ME), and Sen. Lieberman (D-CT), whose recently reintroduced Clean Power Act moves the nation in the right direction, strongly curbing mercury and other pollution from power plants.

    “Americans need our government to come clean about mercury pollution in our air and water,” Pope said. “If the government knows coal-fired power plants can lead to babies with mental retardation, why isn't the President doing everything possible to protect those kids? Even the Administration admits the President's plan only cleans up part of the mercury, but Americans can do better than that. By using energy-efficient technologies and renewable power, we can clean up all of the mercury, and protect our babies from the brain damage mercury causes.”