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Mercury Sparks Texas Protest

Posted - Mar. 17, 2004 at 6:20 a.m.



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DALLAS, Mar 16, 2004 (United Press International via COMTEX) -- The Environmental Protection Agency is coming under fire in Texas for proposing new mercury emission controls that public health advocates say are too weak and favor power companies.

The Texas chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility charged Tuesday that the rule proposed in December 2003 threatens the health of children across the nation. Texas leads the nation in mercury emissions, producing 11 percent of the nationwide total.

"EPA's proposed rule puts our children's health on the line just to save energy companies a few cents," said Dr. Linda Doggett of Austin. "Toxic mercury pollution threatens our children's ability to think and learn -- that may be a price EPA is willing to pay to appease some energy companies, but the citizens of Texas won't stand for it. We demand a real solution to mercury pollution now."

Research has shown that mercury can slow the mental and physical development of children. High doses of methylmercury during fetal development can result in low birth weight, severe mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness and seizures.

The new mercury rule proposed by EPA Administrator Michael Leavitt would delay serious reduction of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 15 years or longer. The plants are the major source of industrial mercury pollution in the United States, and those emissions are currently unregulated by the EPA. EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman responded that the public comment process is still under way, and a final decision will not be made until December 2004. "The process is not complete and the administrator has asked for additional analysis," she said. "We are in the midst of a public comment period and this is the time for critics to make their opinions known."

Bergman said the problem right now is that there is no commercially available technology to control mercury from power plants. In 2000, some in the industry believed controls on other toxic emissions would also control mercury, but that has not proven to be true, she said.

Activated Carbon Injection technology has been used to remove 80 percent of the mercury at an Alabama coal-fired power plant, according to the Washington Post, but the long-term consequences of the new system have yet to be determined.

The EPA is accepting public comments until the end of April on the proposed new rule, and criticism has been mounting in recent weeks in Texas. Public health advocates spoke Saturday at a Mothers Opposing Mercury rally at the regional EPA headquarters in downtown Dallas.

"Texas is already the nation's mercury hotspot, and we deserve a real cleanup for the sake of our children," said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition. "We're very concerned that EPA would propose to take mercury out of the toxic category in order to let coal-burning power plants out of cleaning up their plants." The EPA has said that the proposed rules, tied to President George W. Bush's "Clear Skies" initiative, would cut mercury emissions by 70 percent in the next 15 years. The Bush administration said it's impossible to reach the Clean Air Act goal of a 90 to 95 percent reduction by 2007 because the technology is not available.

Dallas-based TXU, one of the largest power companies in Texas, is working toward a reduction in mercury emissions at its four coal-fired power plants, according to spokesman Rand LaVonn.

"We have committed to successfully reducing mercury emissions and meeting the new government standards," he said. "We have worked successfully with the EPA before and we are optimistic we can do it again." TXU, which serves 2.6 million customers in Texas, is conducting its own research on the best ways to control mercury emissions to benefit its own plant operations and the industry, LaVonn said.

Copyright 2004 by United Press International.

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