Vermont Senators Patrick Leahy and Jim Jeffords are concerned about federal standards to regulate mercury pollution. The senators looked at the issue as part of a symposium sponsored by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee in Washington.
Chad Pergram reports from our Capital Hill Bureau.
(Pergram) Power plants are the greatest sources of mercury pollution in the nation. They spew out some 48 tons of mercury annually. Decmoratic Senator Patrick Leahy says the problem is particularly acute in Vermont.
(Leahy) “For decades, all of us in the northeast have been the dumping grounds for the coal-fired power plants in other parts of the country.”
(Pergram) High mercury levels in humans can impair fetal development, harm organs and damage the nervous system. The Centers for Disease Control found that nearly five million women of child-bearing age have mercury levels above what’s recommended. Often the women have been exposed to mercury after consuming poisoned fish. Leahy says those figures weigh heavily on people:
(Leahy) “Each weekend when I’m home, just going to the grocery store and picking up groceries – the number of people who just come up to you and say, ‘I have children and I’m afraid of what I can feed them.’ A few days ago a pregnant woman came up and said, ‘I’m just terrified of what I’m easting.'”
(Pergram) Lynn Goldman of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health accused the EPA of ignoring the health threat posed by mercury:
(Goldman) “The EPA of the present, they seem to have abandoned the goal the Congress set, in terms of providing a health-based protective standard – which is really, fundamentally their job.”
(Pergram) Independent Senator Jim Jeffords is the ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. He echoed Goldman’s concern about the EPA’s lax mercury standards.
(Jeffords) “They don’t enforce them even though the laws are there to enforce. I think that’s the crime in itself.”
(Pergram) Jeffords teamed with Leahy to author a plan to trim mercury emissions 90 percent over the next four years. A Bush administration plan moves more slowly. It would cut mercury emissions by nearly 100 percent but take until 2018 to reach that goal. Jeffords and Leahy would like Congress to move on their proposal when members return to Washington in September but that’s unlike given the crowded election calendar this election year.
For VPR News, I’m Chad Pergram on Capitol Hill.