Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Betraying the Public Trust


Betraying the Public Trust

The Bush administration is planning to finally unveil its mercury
emissions policy today. These new, polluter-friendly rules were politically
driven, based on phony science and drafted in part by the polluters
themselves. They will curb toxic mercury pollution at a much slower rate
than other more environmentally favorable plans while instituting a
cap-and-trade system, which lets dirty power plants buy credits from
cleaner ones. Thus, under the new system, some power plants will actually "
increase pollution
, while others turn a profit selling unused pollution allowances." The
result: "hot spots," localized areas of serious contamination. The
Atlanta Journal-Constitution today sums up the true effect of the new White
House rules, writing, " There's no gentle way to put it
( : The
White House is ignoring the public's will, betraying the public's trust
and endangering the public's health by proposing weak mercury
regulations for the nation's power plants."

POLLUTED NUMBERS: Every year, power plants emit 48 tons of toxic
mercury into the atmosphere. President Bush likes to claim his plan will
reduce mercury pollution by 70 percent by 2018. What he doesn't tell the
public: that's a big step backwards. The Bush administration rolled back
a 2000 Clinton White House plan which "would have mandated curtailing
emissions at every plant by the maximum amount possible, which
proponents said could bring a 90% reduction in three years
using existing technology." In fact, a preliminary report released by
the nonpartisan National Academy of Sciences
found that "the Bush administration's bill to curb air pollution from
power plans would reduce air pollution less than the current Clean Air
act rules."

PLAYING GAMES WITH SCIENCE: The EPA's own inspector general and the
nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) have sharply criticized
the EPA for bypassing scientific ethics and willfully distorting
analysis while creating the mercury emission rules. Last month, the EPA
inspector general reported the White House had pushed EPA scientists to
ignore scientific evidence
and instead "find" predetermined conclusions the Bush administration
needed to justify the polluter-friendly cap-and-trade plan. Last week,
the GAO also slammed the EPA for twisting analysis
( to
falsely make Bush's plan seem superior to other plans which would
actually clean the air faster and better. Both the EPA's inspector general
and the GAO demanded the EPA conduct additional -- and real -- analyses
of the mercury rules before issuing the new rule. EPA spokeswoman
Cynthia Bergman yesterday, however, confirmed that hasn't happened
( .

LETTING INDUSTRY WRITE THEIR RULES: The EPA's mercury emission rules
are so industry friendly that they were even partially drafted by the
very energy companies they're supposed to regulate. In April 2003, a group
of eight power plants reviewed the administration's plan and submitted
a "wish list" of changes to weaken regulations. The Washington Post
last year found that, in a side-by-side comparison of the rules and the
power-plant memo, at least "a dozen paragraphs were lifted, sometimes
, from the industry suggestions."

FORGETTING THE CHILDREN: Mercury is a powerful toxin that can have
serious neurological effects, especially in kids. Mercury directly harms
the nervous systems
of infants and children, causing birth defects and serious learning
disabilities. According to an EPA analysis, 600,000 babies born in the
U.S. every year "may be exposed to dangerous levels of mercury in the
womb." The Los Angeles Times points out that even the EPA's very own
Children's Health Protection Advisory Committee reported last year that the
industry-friendly EPA mercury rule " does not sufficiently protect our
nation's children
." A member of that panel yesterday criticized the new rules, saying,
"This rule flies in the face of the best science, and the best experts
and the public." She also revealed the committee "repeatedly had asked
the EPA to do additional analysis on the rule and to address 'hot
spots,' but the agency had failed to do either."

THE CANARY IN THE COAL MINE: Power plants burn coal, which releases
mercury pollution into the air. From there, it rises in the atmosphere and
returns in the form of polluted rain, which accumulates in lakes, bays,
ponds and rivers. Scientists have long known the poisonous effects
mercury pollution has on fish (and, thus, people who eat fish.) In fact, 45
states currently have do-not-eat warnings for certain fish that have
been contaminated with mercury. But the environmental effect is even more
widespread than previously thought. A study last week unexpectedly
found toxic levels of mercury in birds
living on mountaintops in Vermont. Biologist Kent McFarland called the
surprising new finding a "wake-up call" about how much mercury is
pervading the atmosphere. (For more, check out this editorial
( by
John Podesta and John Monks.)