WASHINGTON (Friday, July 9) – Vermont's U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Jim Jeffords Friday led a hearing to examine the Bush Administration's proposal on mercury emissions from power plants. The nation's 1,100 coal-burning power plants emit about 48 tons of mercury each year, the largest unregulated U.S. source. Witnesses, including former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials, testified that the Administration proposal allows for more mercury pollution than current law and is much less protective of public health. Jeffords, the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said, "Sadly, the Bush Administration's proposal on mercury pollution from power plants appears to do little to protect public health, especially in the short term. The proposed Administration rule calls for a permanent delay in serious reductions and would achieve far less in cleanup than is possible with today's technologies and is required by the Clean Air Act. Also, it lets more than 200 power plants buy their way out of controlling these toxic emissions for 20 years or more." Leahy said, "Forty-five senators, 184 House members, 10 state Attorneys General, almost 500 sportsmen's groups, the National Tribal Environmental Council, state air officials, and EPA's own Children's Health Advisory Committee all believe the Bush proposal falls way short of protecting public health or the environment. As far as I can tell the only people happy with this proposal are the polluters and their lobbyists. Some industry lobbyists have even said that it goes farther than even they had hoped." Legislation authored by Jeffords and cosponsored by Leahy would reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2008. The Bush administration plan would cut mercury emissions by 29 percent by 2010, and by 70 percent by 2018. In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control found that one in twelve women of childbearing age has mercury levels above EPA's safe health threshold – due primarily to consumption of poisoned fish. This totals almost five million women, and results in almost 300,000 newborns with increased risk of nervous system damage from exposure in the womb. Earlier this year, it was disclosed that parts of the Bush Administration mercury rule were written verbatim from memos and proposals from lobbyists working for Midwestern power plants. At the request of the Vermont Senators, the EPA Inspector General is conducting a review of industry influence on the drafting of the rule. Witnesses at today's hearing included: Bradley Campbell (Commissioner of Environmental Protection, State of New Jersey), John Paul (Regional Air Pollution Control Agency, Dayton, Ohio), Lynn Goldman (Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health), David Foerter (Institute for Clean Air Companies), and Scott Sparlin (New Ulm Area Sportfishermen in Minnesota). ----------------------------------------------- STATEMENT OF SENATOR JEFFORDS
JULY 9, 2004
As many of you may know, this Committee was created in 1947, along with the Republican Policy Committee. These Committees are designed to formulate over-all legislative policies of the respective parties, and to study, research and analyze policy. I appreciate the willingness of Senator Dorgan, the DPC Chairman, to allow us to use the resources of the Committee for today’s hearing. Today, we will hear testimony from experts who are knowledgeable about the effects of mercury pollution on public health and the environment. We will also explore the inadequacies of the Bush Administration’s approach to mercury emissions at power plants. Senators will be recognized for their statements and then we will hear from witnesses. My colleagues here should not take this the wrong way, but I would prefer that we were holding this hearing where it most clearly belongs - the Committee on Environment and Public Works - of which I am the ranking member. Unfortunately, a minority EPW hearing request on mercury was denied. As a result, we have been forced to find another way to perform oversight on this vitally important issue. Similarly, EPW Democrats and I have asked the Administration to fully explain this proposed rule, only to be denied or ignored. We have sought legal justification for the proposal, including documentation. We have also asked for analyses on the environmental, economic, technological, and health effects of the proposal and reasonable alternatives. We have received nothing useful. To this day, Congress and the public do not know whether and how the rule would protect public health. This is unacceptable. The threat from mercury pollution is real. Americans know that a great deal is at stake. The EPA says that every year six hundred thousand newborns may face nervous system damage due to mercury exposure in the womb. Plus, the FDA warns pregnant women that eating even small amounts of white tuna every week can endanger their babies’ health. Sadly, the Bush Administration’s proposal on mercury pollution from power plants appears to do little to protect public health, especially in the short term. The proposed Administration rule calls for far too long a delay in reductions and far less cleanup than what is achievable with today’s technologies, and is presently required under the current Clean Air Act. To make matters worse, parts of the rule were written by industry law firms and lobbyists. Such concerns prompted my colleagues and I to ask the EPA Inspector General to review the rule and the way in which it was developed. She is looking at the rule now. 600,000 public comments on the rule have flooded EPA. This record-breaking number signals widespread concern. Today, we will hear about some of those comments, which come from diverse sources. Perhaps most notable are comments from the EPA’s own Children’s Health Protection Advisory Committee. In January, this EPA committee warned that the proposal would not protect our nation’s children. It urged the EPA to “elevate ...mercury’s health impacts on children in finalizing this rule.” The committee also requested analysis to determine whether the proposal is the most child-protective, timely, and cost-effective. Instead, EPA did not act. It demoted the committee’s directors. This was just another all-too-familiar sign of the Bush Administration’s extreme discomfort with inconvenient science that does not support the polluters’ views. The EPA docket contains numerous other letters from medical professionals worried that this rule could endanger our children’s health. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association, sportsmen from 470 groups in thirty-one states, the National Council of Churches and the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life, the National Tribal Environmental Council -- have all expressed grave concerns. They tell us the administration’s mercury rule fails to protect children; neglects wildlife and the environment; ignores tribal needs; potentially threatens our sportfishing economy, is morally irresponsible. Still, there are more legitimate complaints about the rule’s doubtful legality and the questionable way in which it was developed. In sum, the rule clearly contradicts Congress’ intent that regulation of toxic air pollutants must occur at every listed major source. Cap-and-trade is not an option for toxics. In fact, nearly half of the Senate sent an April letter calling on the EPA to redo the rule so that it could comply with the Act and protect public health. I am the primary sponsor of the Clean Power Act, a tough bill to back up the Clean Air Act with swift and substantial reductions in utility mercury pollution. If passed, this would be a major step forward in reducing our domestic and global mercury burden. After all, mercury is a global problem. Although 60% of mercury pollution deposition in the U.S. comes from U.S. sources, our pollution has the ability to travel by air across the world. Tough reductions at home means good global citizenship and a safer world. Just think, if polluters worldwide were to reduce their pollution as much as U.S. sources, it would be a fairer playing field and we would all be healthier. Sadly, this Administration does not seem to want real action on mercury, at home or abroad. Thank you.