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March 15, 2005

Contact: Peter Boger - DEP (609) 984-1795
Peter Aseltine - LPS (609) 292-4791


Rule Delays by a Generation Needed Protections and Allows Localized
Mercury Hotspots

(05/19) TRENTON -- New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley M. Campbell today announced that New Jersey will file suit against the new federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mercury rule unveiled today. The rule fails to protect the public adequately from harmful mercury emissions.

"We will file suit to challenge EPA's new rule, which fails to protect our citizens from the grave threat posed by mercury emissions," said Attorney General Harvey. "Mercury has been linked to neurological disorders and is especially dangerous for young children and pregnant women. By authorizing emissions trading, EPA's rule will allow some power plants to actually increase mercury emissions, creating hot spots of mercury deposition around those plants."

"Once again, in the choice between families and polluters, President Bush has left every child behind in order to reward industry and campaign contributors," said Commissioner Campbell. "This rule betrays the public's trust by calling for standards far too weak to protect public health and the environment. Moreover, the emissions reductions trumpeted by the EPA in this rule are misleading and inaccurate."

New Jersey is consulting with other northeastern states severely impacted by mercury emissions and will petition for review of the rule to demand that the EPA implement a strong, protective rule as required by the Clean Air Act.

The Bush EPA's mercury rule lets coal-fired power plants trade credits under a cap-and-trade system. Cap-and-trade emission controls, while sometimes appropriate for general air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and carbon dioxide, are inappropriate for hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) because they can allow localized deposition of mercury to continue unabated, perpetuating hotspots and hot regions that can significantly impact the health of individual communities.

The rule's cap-and-trade form of mercury controls allows several times more emissions than a Clinton-era plan that called for a technology-based control standard for all facilities. A strict Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) standard, as required by the Clean Air Act, would reduce mercury emissions to levels approximately three times lower than the cap established in this EPA rule. EPA's trading rule will ultimately result in 15 tons of emissions; MACT control, reducing emissions at each facility by 90 percent, results in emissions of about 5 tons per year.

The Bush EPA rule also extends the deadline for full compliance to 2018 from a court-approved deadline of 2007.

In contrast, New Jersey adopted last year tough new restrictions on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants, iron and steel melters, and municipal solid waste incinerators. The rules will reduce in-state mercury emissions by over 1,500 pounds annually and reduce emissions from New Jersey's coal-fired power plants by about 90 percent.

Despite New Jersey's aggressive efforts to protect the public from mercury exposure, stronger federal action than the Bush EPA rule is needed since more than one-third of mercury deposition in New Jersey is from sources in upwind states.

Exposure to the most toxic form of mercury comes primarily from eating contaminated fish and shellfish. Children and pregnant women are especially susceptible to mercury contamination, which can cause permanent brain damage to the fetus, infants, and young children. Mercury exposure has been shown to affect the ability of children to pay attention, remember, talk, draw, run, see, and play.

Even exposure to low levels can permanently damage the brain and nervous system and cause behavioral changes. Scientists estimate up to 60,000 children may be born annually in the United States with neurological problems leading to poor school performance because of mercury exposure while in utero. At least one in 10 pregnant women in New Jersey have concentrations of mercury in their hair samples that exceed safe levels.

Fish from waters in 45 of our 50 states have been declared unsafe to eat as a result of poisoning from mercury. In New Jersey, there are mercury consumption advisories for at least one species of fish in almost every waterbody of the state.



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Last Updated: March 15, 2005