Mercury Policy In Retrograde

Monday was the EPA's deadline to announce its plan for regulating mercury from coal-burning power plants. A leaked draft indicated it would downgrade mercury as a toxin and weaken efforts to clean up mercury emissions.

This weakening comes just days after the Food and Drug Administration announced that it plans to warn women of child-bearing age and children to limit consumption of canned tuna because of high levels of mercury, which can cause learning disabilities and other serious problems in fetuses and young children.

On Dec. 5, the White House summoned EPA and FDA officials to discuss the awkward timing of the contradictory mercury announcements. White House officials wanted the two agencies to brief them "to ensure federal communication about mercury risks can be defended," according to the trade publication Inside EPA.

"No one's saying what happened at the meeting," Michael Bender, director of the Mercury Policy Project, told BushGreenwatch.org. "What we do know is that President Bush's EPA is slated today to formally announce a dramatic weakening of emission limits for mercury, a potent poison for children and the unborn, from coal burning. It presents the appearance, and perhaps the reality, of allowing children to be poisoned for the sake of campaign contributions."

President Bush has been by far the top recipient of campaign contributions from electric utilities since 2000. White House records show that while utility representatives were invited to discuss the mercury emission proposal with the White House several times this fall, no consumer or public health groups were included.

Mercury is emitted by coal-fired power plants and is converted into a more toxic form when it hits water, where it accumulates in fish. When people eat contaminated fish, like tuna, they ingest the toxin. Canned tuna is the most-consumed fish by women and children, the most vulnerable population, Bender said.

So who benefits from the Administration's mercury rules?

Southern Company, for one. Five of the coal-burning utility's executives or lobbyists are also among the elite group of President Bush's fundraising Pioneers, having raised $100,000 each toward his 2004 campaign. Anthony Alexander of FirstEnergy also is a Pioneer, as is Matthew Rose of Burlington Northern, which makes money mining and shipping coal. Richard Davidson of Union Pacific, another coal miner and shipper, has done even better: He has raised over $200,000.

BushGreenwatch provides daily updates on the Bush Administration's assault on our environment and public health.

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