WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) Monday led a tri-partisan coalition of 29 senators in calling on the Environmental Protection Agency to strengthen a proposed mercury rule that a newly released General Accountability Office (GAO) report and last month’s EPA Inspector General (IG) report say was improperly drafted. In a letter submitted to Acting EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, the senators ask EPA to strengthen its proposed Utility Maximum Achievable Control (MACT) rule governing the amount of mercury released through power plant emissions. Last year Leahy, Jeffords and Snowe led an effort to have the rulemaking process investigated after it became clear that the proposed rule continued to pose a threat to the health of women and children exposed to mercury. After record-setting public concern was voiced over the rule and after numerous congressional inquiries, the EPA delayed finalizing the rule until March 15, 2005. Both the GAO report and the IG report severely criticize EPA’s rulemaking process, concluding that it violated EPA policy, OMB guidance and Presidential Executive Orders. Both reports emphasize serious flaws in how EPA analyzed the impacts of mercury on children’s health and the benefits of the different ways to control mercury emissions, limiting EPA’s ability to select the best approach. Last year Snowe, Jeffords and Leahy were joined by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and Mark Dayton (D-Minn.) in requesting the GAO report. “These two reports show that the Administration ignored sound science and cut corners to justify the weaker mercury proposal that industry wanted,” said Leahy. “They need to step up now and put forward a final rule that protects women and children from this toxic pollutant.” “This report and our letter demonstrate the very real and continuing concern that the Bush Administration's mercury proposal was written for and by the big energy companies,” said Jeffords. “Mercury poisoning is real and it is happening now. A recently published study by the Mount Sinai Center for Children's Health and the Environment shows lower IQ levels linked to prenatal mercury exposure costs the United States $8.7 billion a year. Of this total, about $1.3 billion each year is attributable to mercury emissions from American power plants. Everything we've seen and heard from this Administration amounts to delaying enforcement of the Clean Air Act and ignoring the resulting public health damage. I hope they surprise us this week or next and write a strong, enforceable rule that gets mercury reductions from every power plant as rapidly as humanly possible." “The GAO’s findings underscore both the inadequacy of existing regulations and the urgent need to reduce mercury emissions from power plants nationwide,” said Snowe. “The current EPA proposals are not going far enough to address this pressing public health issue, putting millions of Americans – especially women and children – at risk of serious harm. I urge EPA to change course and make a commitment to protect the public and our environment.” In the letter, the 29 senators urge EPA to act on the GAO and IG recommendations to strengthen the mercury control proposals, fully assess the potential for hot spots of mercury contamination and conduct new analysis to determine the option that is most protective of children. One in six women of child bearing age in the United States carries enough accumulated mercury in her body to pose risks of adverse health effects to her children should she become pregnant. Forty-five states have fish advisories for mercury warning pregnant women and children to limit their consumption of many fish caught in freshwater. The 29 senators urging Johnson to fix the rule are: Leahy, Jeffords, Snowe, Lieberman, Collins, Feingold, Dayton, Lautenberg, Boxer, Feinstein, Sarbanes, Clinton, Kerry, Kennedy, Akaka, Inouye, Dodd, Harkin, Biden, Corzine, Schumer, Reed, Cantwell, Wyden, Murray, Durbin, Levin, Reid, and Mikulski.