Bush Administration: "Science? We don't need no steenkin' science!"
This article ran in the LA Times yesterday. The lede says it all:
Political appointees in the Environmental Protection Agency bypassed agency professional staff and a federal advisory panel last year to craft a rule on mercury emissions preferred by the industry and the White House, several longtime EPA officials say.
The EPA staffers say they were told not to undertake the normal scientific and economic studies called for under a standing executive order. At the same time, the proposal to regulate mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants was written using key language provided by utility lobbyists.
In case you don't know already, the Bush rules put off reductions in mercury levels for decades and save the power and coal industries billions of dollars.
EPA veterans say they cannot recall another instance when the agency's technical experts were cut out of developing a major regulatory proposal.
The administration chose a process "that would support the conclusion they wanted to reach," said John A. Paul, a Republican environmental regulator from Ohio who co-chaired the EPA-appointed advisory panel.
He said its 21 months of work on mercury was ignored.
"There is a politicization of the work of the agency that I have not seen before," said Bruce C. Buckheit, who served in major federal environmental posts for two decades. He retired in December as director of the EPA's Air Enforcement Division, partly because he felt enforcement was stymied. "A political agenda is driving the agency's output, rather than analysis and science," he said.
Russell E. Train, a Republican who headed the EPA during the Nixon and Ford administrations, said: "I think it is outrageous. The agency has strayed from its mission in the past three years."
Meanwhile, Leavitt is trying to cover his butt. As he should, since Mercury is pretty nasty stuff.
Power plants are the largest single source of mercury in the U.S.
A little bit of background science:
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment, in fossil fuels like coal, and is released into the atmosphere when those fuels are burned. When mercury particles and gases drop into water, some turn into a more toxic form known as methyl mercury, which then enters the aquatic food chain. People are exposed to mercury chiefly by eating fish.
Other sources of exposure are from incinerating mercury containing products (thermometers, mercury switches in cars, computers), direct contact (who here didn't play with mercury as a kid?), dental fillings, some vaccines, and some fertilizers. Basically, you have mercury in you. It's just a question of how much.
In 2000, a National Research Council study commissioned by Congress estimated that each year about 60,000 children born in the United States could have neurological problems because they were exposed to mercury before birth. Exposure could lead to developmental problems.
In the past few months, there has been a flurry of other disturbing reports, most focusing on the threat to the fetus from mothers eating fish with elevated levels of mercury. In December, the Food and Drug Administration warned all women of child-bearing age to limit their intake of tuna and other fish because of concern about mercury.
Did you catch that? 60,000 children. One would be unacceptable. 60, 000 is horrific. And then we complain about ADD and lower test scores - did it ever occur to you that maybe there's a link between children's mental performance and the amount of pollution we dump into their environment?!?
And for what?
Since 1999, coal and electricity companies and executives have donated $40 million to Republican candidates and committees, including $1.3 million directly to Bush campaigns, according to figures compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
The administration has responded to key industry priorities: It ended U.S. participation in the Kyoto process to reduce global warming and relaxed regulations that required the power industry to install pollution controls when renovating its plants.
The administration's proposed mercury rule, published in the Federal Register in December, contains numerous paragraphs of verbatim language supplied by two separate industry advocates.
Several complete paragraphs were lifted from three memos provided by Latham & Watkins, a national law firm whose clients include large coal-fired utility plants.
More seriously, according to critics, the proposal also includes exact language provided by West Associates, a research and advocacy group representing 20 power and transmission companies in California and other Western states.
Unsurprising. I don't know why they even pretend anymore - why not just outsource all this rulemaking to the companies affected by the rules?
Luckily, where the federal government is failing, the states are stepping in (another reason state legislatures are important). According to these organizations, 30 states have introduced bills to reduce mercury pollution. Midwestern states and New England states are even trying to coordinate efforts.
At least someone is looking out for our health.
You can, too - remember, most mercury comes from coal burning power plants, so less energy used = less mercury in the air. Here's how.