The Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) has vowed to vigorously oppose the Bush administration’s efforts to reinstate a federal regulation that would expose the environment to mercury contamination.
In February, a federal appeals court ruled that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR) conflicted with the clear language of the federal Clean Air Act, which requires power plants to install the best technology available to reduce mercury emissions. Now, the administration is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that decision.
CAMR, a cap-and-trade program, allowed polluters to buy pollution credits and emit mercury without pollution controls, which in turn resulted in regional mercury “hot spots.” Two recent studies have linked coal-fired power plants to mercury hot spots in the Adirondacks and Catskills.
ADK has joined with more than a dozen states, leading medical, health care and public health groups, and several prominent national environmental advocacy groups to challenge CAMR. In January 2007, ADK filed a brief with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia asserting that CAMR was an illegal attempt to weaken the strict mercury emission controls in the Clean Air Act.
Last Friday, acting Solicitor General Greg Garre filed a petition asking the high court to restore the EPA mercury rule. The power industry is also seeking a Supreme Court review of the case.
In enacting the Clean Air Act, Congress provided for strict limits on mercury emissions through the installation of maximum achievable control technology, which Congress made applicable to all coal-burning power plants. By contrast, the EPA administrative rule would have delayed for two decades the elimination of airborne mercury emissions as a source of mercury toxins in the Northeast.
Furthermore, the contested rule would have allowed many of the worst polluters to buy “pollution rights,” continue to release mercury up their smokestacks and perpetuate mercury hot spots in New York and the Northeast.
The Adirondacks and Catskills are downwind of numerous coal-burning power plants, whose mercury emissions contribute significantly to mercury pollution in these regions. A 2007 independent study by Charles Driscoll and the Hubbard Brook Research Foundation estimated that mercury emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants are responsible for 40 percent to 65 percent of mercury deposition in the Northeast.
Current levels of mercury deposition in the Northeast are four to six times higher than the levels recorded in 1900. Ninety-six percent of the lakes in the Adirondack region and 40 percent of the lakes in New Hampshire and Vermont exceed the recommended EPA action level for methyl mercury in fish. Because of high mercury levels in fish from six reservoirs in the Catskills, state health officials have warned that infants, children under 15 and women of childbearing age should not eat any fish from these reservoirs.
A long-term study by the Wildlife Conservation Society, released earlier this year, confirmed that human-generated mercury emissions are degrading the health and reproductive success of loons in the Northeast. High mercury levels have also been recorded in eagles, songbirds, otters and other animals in the Northeast.