Two reports on mercury may affect EPA emissions rule

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(Host) Opponents of a proposal to regulate mercury emissions at Midwestern coal-burning power plants are hoping that information in two new reports will have an impact on the regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency is set to issue a key rule on mercury emissions next week. Mercury has been linked to numerous health problems.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) First came an analysis by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. It said the EPA process for writing the rule has been flawed, contending that information was distorted to favor the power companies and that important research about the health affects of mercury pollution wasn’t considered. The EPA says the rulemaking process has been fair and transparent.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy was one of a group of Senators who said the report shows the Bush administration and Midwestern power companies are trying to circumvent the Clean Air Act of 1970.

(Leahy) “Now they’re trying to have their cake and eat it, too. Unfortunately, everybody else who might be eating anything in the northeast is going to be poisoned by the music they’re spewing.”

(Zind) The second report came on Tuesday when researchers announced the results of a four-year, government financed study which shows that mercury contamination in the northeast is more widespread and at higher levels than previously thought.

Both reports have given new ammunition to opponents of a provision contained in a proposed EPA rule for regulating mercury emissions from power plants. The provision would allow what’s called a “cap and trade” approach, which would give power plant owners flexibility in how they reduce emissions.

Critics of the plan, like Vermont Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg, want an across the board approach which would guarantee that mercury emissions be reduced at all coal burning plants.

(Wennberg) “We feel very strongly that it needs to be managed with a stack by stack, boiler by boiler permit limit for emissions.”

(Zind) Last year Governor Jim Douglas called on the EPA to adopt a tougher mercury rule. Wennberg says Vermont has been working with other New England states to press the EPA for changes. He says there’s no indication that when the EPA issues the final mercury rule next week that it will reflect Douglas’ concerns. If it doesn’t, he says the state will have to weigh its options, which might include a lawsuit.

When the EPA first issued the proposed mercury rule in January of last year, there was an outpouring of criticism. The agency has received nearly 700,000 public comments on the rule.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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