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March 30, 2012

Forum: Proposal reduces mercury emissions

The League of Women Voters supports the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed regulations to reduce mercury emissions into our air. For 40 years the Clean Air Act has protected us against air pollution. Numerous states and local governments have also enacted legislation that protects our air by following federal regulation or filling in gaps in federal regulation.

Just this month, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, and Physicians for Social Responsibility publicly weighed in to support these stricter restrictions by filing a motion in support of the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Mercury in our air causes or contributes to lung diseases, cancer and heart disease. It finds its way from the air into our lakes and into the fish that we eat. State advisories limit the consumption of fish because of the mercury they contain. One in 10 women of childbearing age has levels of mercury high enough to put her babies at risk for neurological deficiencies.

Despite the hazards of pollutants in our air, the Clean Air Act restriction on mercury emissions is being threatened. The New York Times reports that in 2011, the House voted 168 times to undercut clean air and other environmental laws.

In January, Rep. Fred Upton, chair of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, requested that the Office of Management and Budget withhold the EPA's proposed regulations for new and modified power plants. His stated reason is the impact on jobs and the economy. But the EPA tells us that for every dollar spent to reduce air pollution Americans receive $9 in health benefits.

The EPA projects that the proposed standards will create tens of thousands of short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs. In addition, 85 percent of our present plants in the U.S. are already in compliance with mercury emission regulations.

The EPA worked with stakeholders, including the industry, to create the new standards. In 2010, Great Lakes governors along with mayors, state and federal agencies and tribes agreed to develop a strategy to reduce mercury.

The proposed Clean Air updates are long anticipated. The courts have affirmed EPA's right to regulate toxins in the air. Some states and industries have spent time and money fighting these regulations, but others have begun to implement them.

Illinois passed mercury standards in 2006, with compliance by 2013. Coal plants, which produce 80 percent of mercury pollution, have largely complied. The lights have stayed on, utility rates are stable, and pollution has dropped significantly.

According to a survey by Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research, a majority of Michigan voters support the EPA. Voters believe that scientists, not politicians, should decide how to curb our pollution.

It is long overdue for us to reduce mercury pollution that threatens our lives and our lakes. The League of Women Voters urges everyone to support the proposed EPA clean air regulations.

About the author: Donna Hornberger, of Traverse City, is president of the League of Women Voters-Grand Traverse Area.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of interest or expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by emailing letters@record-eagle.com. Please include biographical information and a photo.

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