Heartland Comment on Governor Blagojevich’s New Mercury Standards

Published January 17, 2006

(Chicago, IL January 17, 2006) Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has announced a dramatic change in the state’s regulation of coal-burning power plants. Going beyond federal regulations, Blagojevich would require that coal-burning power plants cut their mercury emissions by 90 percent by the year 2009. The new regulations were apparently inspired by a Chicago Tribune series that ran in December.

Experts contacted by The Heartland Institute strongly object to the governor’s new regulations and the use of pseudo-science to justify anti-business policies:

Joseph L. Bast – President, The Heartland Institute Phone: 312/377-4000 Email: [email protected]

“Political opportunism, not sound science or economics, seems to drive Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s agenda as the 2006 elections approach. According to the Center for Science and Public Policy, U.S. power plants account for only about 1 percent of global environmental mercury emissions, and those emissions are already in steep decline. But just one day after 12 coal miners died in a tragic accident in West Virginia, Gov. Blagojevich endorses a draconian regulation on the state’s electric generators that would eviscerate the industry and put many of the state’s miners in unemployment lines. Illinois miners, consumers, and employers deserve better.”

Joel Schwartz – Visiting Fellow, American Enterprise Institute Phone: 916/203-6309 Email: [email protected]

“A major study showed mercury in fish is not causing cognitive or any other kind of harm to children in the Seychelles, who are exposed to tens of times more mercury than American children. Mercury fear-mongers claim the Faroe Islands study is a better gauge of harm from mercury. But the Faroes study did not even measure IQ, and the Faroese are exposed to mercury from whale meat, rather than fish as in the U.S. and Seychelles.

“Governor Blagojevich claims mercury is causing mental retardation of hundreds of thousands of American babies each year. But no children in the Faroes or Seychelles studies showed signs of mental retardation or any other clinically observable harm, despite their comparatively huge mercury exposures.”

Jay Lehr, Ph.D. – Science Director, The Heartland Institute Phone: 740/368-9393 Email: [email protected]

“The governor’s mercury plan will not improve public health at all, but it will surely impair the state’s economic health. The cheering of so many environmental advocacy groups over their victory in conning the governor into a baseless change in the environmental mercury rules is not because they know public health will benefit, but rather because they know capitalism in Illinois will suffer. One can already hear the cheering in neighboring states over the eventual exodus of companies straining under excessive energy bills, who will move across state lines.

“A few unarguable facts might give the Illinois Pollution Control Board pause before enacting the governor’s plan:

  • “Man-made emissions of mercury represent less than 30 percent of mercury deposits on U.S. soil. The rest is provided by nature.
  • “The toxic form of mercury, methylmercury, is not emitted from coal-fired power plants.
  • “The formation and destruction of methylmercury in the environment is beyond man’s control.
  • “High levels of mercury occurred in fish 500 years ago.
  • “No epidemiological evidence supports the hypothesis of adverse mental defects in children or adults from either environmental mercury or the consumption of fish.

“Since Illinois’ air rapidly moves to adjacent states and vice versa, the annual alteration of mercury in air above Illinois will ultimately be but a small fraction of the senseless mandate espoused by the misinformed governor. The economic cost to the state could be used in a more beneficial way.”

Bob Ferguson – Executive Director, Center for Science and Public Policy Phone: 202/454-5249 Email: [email protected]

“The Tribune reporters’ ‘science’ was buttressed by references to proven flawed studies on male heart attack risks, an Internet hoax (‘a teaspoon’ of mercury ‘contaminating’ a small lake, and a non-existent ‘government study’).

“Such irresponsible reporting may put at serious health risk the very populations for whom they claim concern–pregnant women and fetuses–by falsely alarming them away from nutrition shown to decrease risks for pre-mature birth, post-partum depression, and suicidal ideation and increase fetal benefits of visual acuity, strong brain development, and enhanced IQ.”

The Heartland Institute is a national nonprofit organization based in Chicago. Founded in 1984, its goal is to help build social movements in support of ideas that empower people. Among other publications, Heartland publishes Environment & Climate News, a monthly newspaper addressing sound science and common-sense approaches to environment policy issues. Heartland is supported by approximately 1,500 donors and members. For more information, call Michael Van Winkle, research and media affairs assistant, 312/377-4000, or email him at [email protected].

More information on mercury is available on the Web site of The Heartland Institute. See, for example, “Junk Science on Mercury Debunked,” http://www.heartland.org/Article.cfm?artId=18186.