EPA to delay final mercury rule

by William Yeatman on April 27, 2004

in Politics

On April 29th, EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt announced that the deadline on the final regulation controlling mercury emissions from power plants would be extended to March 15, 2005 from Dec. 15, 2004.  The Natural Resources Defense Council, which obtained the initial deadline as part of a lawsuit settled by the Clinton administration, offered the extension so that EPA could conduct more analysis on the rule and solicit additional public comment.  Leavitt said EPA would conduct whatever analysis is necessary to ensure the right decision is made and meet the goal of protecting public health in the most effective way possible.

 Leavitt has proposed a mercury trading system, but earlier this month 45 Senators urged him to drop this strategy in favor of a new rule that uses the Clean Air Acts Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) provisions.  This would require state-of-the-art pollution controls on all of the nations 1,100 coal- and oil-fired utilities.  John Kerry was among the 45 senators who asked Leavitt to drop the trading proposal.  With a desire to stick to his plan, Leavitt has rejected this request and, when asked, stated that the presidential elections implications on the regulation would be minimal as [EPA is] moving toward concluding [the] decision in an even-handed and proper way.

 EPAs top air pollution official, Jeff Holmstead, has stated that the technologies needed to meet MACT provisions will not be commercially available by the deadline for utilities to reduce emissions.  Accordingly, Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, said his group would remain committed to working with EPA to highlight the need for realistic assumptions about the current state of mercury control technology.  An inflexible mercury control program can result in unacceptable fuel-switching from coal to natural gas, hurting American consumers, the elderly, and industrial workers. 

 On the other hand, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said that he would continue to call on EPA to drop its trading plan.  Extending the deadline on this deeply flawed rule moves us back for now from the brink of getting this indefensible plan, but what Administrator Leavitt still needs to do is to withdraw this proposal and produce a new one, grounded in science and in the public’s interest, Leahy said.  We need a mercury plan that honors instead of insults the Clean Air Act. (Greenwire, April 30).

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