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Great Lakes Article:

Canadian environmental group tackles Americans over mercury pollution
By Colin Perkel
Canadian Press
Published June 30, 2004

TORONTO (CP) - A Canadian environmental group has formally complained to Washington about a proposed law it says will leave millions of people in Canada exposed to mercury pollution from American coal-fired power plants.

The complaint by the Sierra Legal Defence Fund - one among many from both Canada and the U.S. to the Environmental Protection Agency - notes that 38 per cent of airborne mercury in the Great Lakes region of Canada comes from the U.S.

Studies show mercury is a powerful nerve poison that can cause brain damage and affect fetal and childhood development.

"The U.S. administration has either ignored its own scientific experts on the risks mercury poses to children and their mothers, or it simply doesn't care," Albert Koehl, a lawyer with the group, said Wednesday.

Currently, about 1,100 American power plants emit about 43 tonnes of mercury a year with some of the worst offenders close to the Great Lakes area.

Four years ago, the EPA indicated that forcing American coal plants to adopt the best available technology to reduce mercury emissions would result in a 90 per cent reduction within three years.

Instead, the proposed law dilutes that aim significantly, prompting charges from critics that it amounts to a major concession by the government of President George W. Bush to the powerful utility and coal-industry lobbies.

Environmentalists now fear U.S. coal-fired plants will be able to continue to emit more than 13 tonnes of mercury annually beyond 2018.

"The Bush administration's proposed rules for mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants are shamefully weak," said Koehl.

The American proposal also includes an emissions trading system that would allow "dirtier" power plants to buy credits from other plants and continue spewing excessive amounts of mercury.

Agency officials said this week the EPA had received almost 600,000 public responses to the proposal, most arguing it's too weak.

The deadline for issuing the new rule is March 15.

In a submission earlier this year, Environment Canada urged the EPA to tighten its proposed rule given the threat to Canadians posed by mercury from the U.S.

The proposed rules "fall short of the emissions reductions that are achievable with current and emerging control technologies," Enviroment Canada said.

To combat locally created pollution, Ontario's Liberal government has promised to shut down the province's coal-fired power plants by 2007.

However, environmentalists argue Ottawa has failed to live up to its international obligations to reduce mercury emissions from Canadian coal-fired power plants.

© Copyright 2004 The Canadian Press


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