Most States Are Satisfied with Federal Mercury Standard

Published February 1, 2007

Only 22 of the 50 states are considering mercury reduction plans more stringent than the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) enacted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under CAMR, the states had until November 17, 2006 to file with EPA mercury reduction plans at least as stringent as CAMR or risk EPA implementing CAMR for them.

Twenty-eight of the 50 states will either administer CAMR themselves or allow EPA to administer it for them.

Boost to EPA

Having the majority of states choose to adopt the EPA standards is a boost for the agency.

EPA is facing a lawsuit from environmental activist groups and several states charging CAMR’s requirement of a 70 percent reduction in power plant mercury emissions by 2018 is too permissive.

EPA counters that current technology makes more stringent reductions prohibitively expensive; that its new rule is the first time the federal government has ever limited mercury emissions; and that states have been given the authority to impose stricter limits if they choose.

Even proponents of more severe mercury reduction requirements acknowledge CAMR will substantially reduce current environmental mercury levels.

“Federal rules will certainly improve the situation. They require power plants to lower mercury emissions by 70 percent over a period of 13 years,” observed the December 4 Louisville Courier-Journal, which nevertheless has supported the call for even more stringent standards.

No Harm Shown

Scientists have noted a lack of evidence connecting current environmental mercury levels with any harm to human health. That being the case, the call for cuts deeper than those proposed by CAMR seems like overkill to many.

“There is a great deal of science that undermines the assertion that mercury is harming human health,” said Dr. Gilbert Ross, medical director for the American Council on Science and Health.

“The American populace is exposed to very little environmental mercury,” Ross noted, “and the chances of mercury health harms are quite remote. Individual states taking action against mercury are merely a public relations move that will have absolutely no effect on public health.”

Restricting U.S. power plant emissions would have little impact on environmental mercury levels anyway, Ross said.

“Most of our environmental mercury comes from other nations, mostly China and the Pacific Rim. Power plant-generated mercury emissions in the U.S. are quite minute by comparison,” said Ross.

James Hoare ([email protected]) is an attorney practicing in Syracuse, New York.