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Editorial: Mercury rising

Waco Tribune
4/2/04

For once it would be good to see President Bush get as tough about home-based threats against American lives as he pledges to be against threats from afar.

One such threat is mercury pollution.

In America's back yards coal-fired power plants, particularly old, grandfathered plants, are polluting the environment with mercury, which accumulates in lakes and streams and makes some fish unfit to eat.

Government scientists have released startling results from a new study that reports one child in six born in the United States could be at risk for exposure to harmful levels of mercury in the mother's womb.

Mercury can be controlled. Indeed, emissions can be reduced by 90 percent with a process called carbon adsorption. Yet the proposed rules for mercury limits now up for adoption by the Environmental Protection Agency effectively make that 90 scenario a futuristic novel. That's irresponsible.

At question is a philosophical extension of what the Bush administration calls the Clear Skies Act. Environmentalists and several states call it a misnomer, a retreat from the Clean Air Act.

The proposed rules for mercury would give power plants until 2018 to cut mercury emissions nationwide by 70 percent. That's a lot of mercury to share with the environment in the process.

Indeed, even the 70 percent claim is questioned by Eric Schaeffer, the EPA's former director of regulatory enforcement. He says the administration has constructed a shell game under which the trading of "pollution credits" will allow companies to accumulate credits under a very lax emissions cap early on and thereby get extra emission credits to avoid having to met the tightest requirements by 2018. The EPA has acknowledged that the proposed 70 percent cumulative figure likely would not be met for many more years.

Waco certainly has a stake in matters of this sort with a proposed coal-burning power plant proposed near Riesel. Waco should not consent to a plant that doesn't have the strictest possible pollution requirements including controls on mercury.

Mercury can accumulate in the human body and in what we eat. It can cause neurological damage and learning disabilities in pre- borns when it concentrates in the umbilicle cord.

Just this week pregnant women and women of childbearing age were urged to limit the tuna they consume. Increasing numbers of Texas lakes have mercury advisories about their fish.

We're going to wait until 2018 and beyond to confront this matter to the best of our ability when the technology to confront it is here today? Imagine if President Bush had set that timeline for catching bin Laden.

Mike Keefe cartoon
©Mike Keefe

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