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Editorial: Mercury standards already pose danger

March 21, 2004
San Antonio Express-News

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a new rule that would delay requirements for power plants to substantially reduce mercury emissions.

Mercury is a dangerous toxin that already contaminates too many fish and can cause human health problems, including learning disabilities in children.

In a recent hearing, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., noted that the EPA estimates one of six pregnant women in the United States has a higher mercury level in her blood than is considered safe.

The proposed EPA regulation would subvert the previous approach that required substantial mercury reductions in this decade. The proposal would allow polluters, mostly power plants, to buy and sell mercury credits, meaning they could continue to emit unacceptable amounts of the toxin for an extended period of time.

Leahy and 10 other senators have asked the EPA to withdraw the proposed regulation, which is undergoing public comment through March 30.

The senators noted that 30 percent of the nation's lakes, estuaries and wetlands are contaminated by mercury.

"These high mercury levels have led 44 states and territories to issue fish consumption advisories. Recreational fishing supports a $116 billion industry in this country, supporting one million jobs and thousands of small communities," Leahy and his colleagues wrote.

Environmental activists in this area recently reported that five of seven fish they had purchased in San Antonio contained high levels of mercury.

Opponents of the EPA's proposed rule want the agency to endorse a requirement that power plants reduce emissions using maximum available technologies during this decade.

Any effort to weaken controls on mercury emissions is dangerous and unacceptable. We urge the EPA to rescind its irresponsible proposed rule.

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