Bush administration releases weak mercury rules

The U.S. EPA is releasing its plan to reduce mercury emissions today, and even jaded environmentalists are appalled. “This is … the most dangerous, dishonest, and illegal air-pollution rule I have ever seen come out of the agency,” said ex-EPA official and Natural Resources Defense Council attorney John Walke. If the agency had classified mercury as a “hazardous air pollutant” — as the Clinton administration did — existing regulations would have forced reductions of power-plant mercury emissions to five tons a year within three to five years. Instead, it reversed Clinton’s assessment, opting for a plan that will reduce emissions to 15 tons a year by 2017. Instead of mandating reductions at every plant, the agency opted for a cap-and-trade program that critics say will leave high concentrations of mercury around several power plants, generally in poor communities. Both the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office and the EPA’s own inspector general have found that the agency distorted scientific and economic analyses to justify the plan. Mercury is a neurotoxin that damages brain development in fetuses and young children.