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Great Lakes Article:

Mercury Levels: EPA, area states have another chance to get it right
Detroit Free Press
03/22/04


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is doing some serious backpedaling on its weak plan to get mercury out of the smoke from coal-burning power plants. The disappointing proposal, it seems, lacked solid documentation. Now, at least, the agency is taking the steps needed to do a better job.

EPA administrator Michael Leavitt had been boasting that the rule would bring about a 69-percent cutback in mercury emissions by 2018. But the agency apparently didn't do enough to back that claim up. That would have left the EPA vulnerable to legal challenges, especially when suggestions have emerged already that the plan may not live up to its billing. The Los Angeles Times reported last week that political appointees in the EPA ignored previous work done on mercury and refused to launch the economic and scientific work needed to support the new rule. Some of the language for it was supplied by lobbyists.

Now the EPA has extended the comment period for its mercury rule, while Leavitt considers what studies need to be done.

Mercury is one of the main causes of fish contamination in this region, especially those in inland lakes. Once in the air, it falls back down with the rain and washes into the nearest body of water. As it works its way up the aquatic food chain, it becomes increasingly toxic. The greatest threat is the transfer of a lifetime of buildup in women to their offspring.

This delay may push efforts to control mercury even further into the future, which is a risk. But states apparently will have the leeway to be stricter. Given the stakes here in the Great Lakes, the region's governors should address the problem together and take a coordinated group approach. It does Michigan little good to clean up if Indiana and Illinois don't. The region could set an example for the rest of the country by going to much tighter controls even as the EPA tries to negotiate this mess of its own creation.

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