One of my primary objectives as chair of this Committee is to improve the way in which science is used and discussed in public policy debates. Unfortunately, the quality of the debate has been steadily declining. The issue of climate change stands at the forefront of this decline. And I am concerned that the same is occurring with mercury.
Good public policy decisions depend on what is real or probable, not on simply what serves our respective political agendas. When science is debated openly and honestly, public policy can be debated on firmer ground.
Scientific inquiry cannot be censored—scientific debate must be open, must be unbiased, and it must stress facts rather than political agendas. Before us today, we have two researchers who have published what I consider to be a credible, well-documented and scientifically defensible study examining the history of climate change.
Furthermore, these are top fields of inquiry in the nation's energy/environment debate and really the entire world's energy/environment debate. We can all agree that the implications of this science are global, not only in terms of environmental impacts, but also energy impacts, global trade impacts, and quite frankly no less than global governance impacts.
We can also all agree that as a result of the import and impact of these issues, it is absolutely crucial that we get this science right. Flawed or incomplete or misconstrued data are simply not an acceptable basis for policymaking decisions in which the Congress of the United States is involved. Such data would violate the Data Quality Act which we passed on a bipartisan basis here in the Senate and which we have bipartisanly embraced. If we need more data to satisfy our standards, then so be it. This Administration is prepared to do so in an aggressive strategy that the Climate Change Strategic Plan outlines.
The 1,000-year climate study that the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics has compiled is a powerful, new work of science. It has received much attention and rightfully so. The same can be said of the hockey stick study. In many important ways the Harvard-Smithsonian Center's work shifts the paradigm away from the previous hockey stick study. The powerful new findings of this most comprehensive of studies shiver the timbers of the adrift Chicken Little crowd.
I look forward to determining whose data is most comprehensive, uses the most proxies, maintains the regional effects, avoids losing specificity through averaging statistics, considers more studies, most accurately reflects the realities of the Little Ice Age, reflects the realities of the Medieval Warm Period, and more.
Mercury presents a different set of issues. It is well established that high levels of exposure to methylmercury before birth can lead to neurodevelopment problems. But what about mercury consumed through fish, the most common form of prenatal exposure? Mercury makes its way into fish through various ways, but primarily through deposition from air emissions. Eighty percent of emissions deposit either regionally or globally, not locally. Global mercury emissions are about 5000 tons a year. About half of these are man-made. In the U.S., a little more than 100 tons are emitted from non-power plant sources. Industry is making great strides in reducing these emissions. I would like to submit for the record this EPA document, available on their website, which indicates that when rules now on the books are fully implemented at non-power plant sources, nationwide emissions will be cut by nearly 50 percent. Power plants emit about 50 tons of mercury annually - about one percent of the worldwide emissions. In setting policy, key questions need to be answered, such as:
· How would controls change this deposition?
· What portion of mercury exposure can we not control?
· What are the health impacts of prenatal exposure?
We will hear testimony today that indicates any changes to mercury exposure in fish would be minimal under even the most stringent proposal to regulate mercury. Today we will also hear testimony that the most recent and comprehensive study to date found no evidence that prenatal mercury exposure from ocean fish presents a neurological risk.