"Every power plant should cut its mercury emissions by 90 percent by the year 2015. The more we learn about mercury the more I am convinced mercury emissions are dangerous, especially to children and women of child-bearing age," - Lamar Alexander

Posted on February 15, 2008

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said here today that he is introducing legislation in the U.S. Senate that will require power plants to remove 90 percent of its mercury emissions by 2015. "The more we learn about mercury the more I am convinced mercury emissions are dangerous, especially to children and women of child-bearing age," Alexander said. The Mercury Emissions Control Act (MECA), introduced on Thursday by Alexander with Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), would require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue a new, stronger rule to control mercury emissions from power plants, as required by the Clean Air Act. Alexander signed on this week as an original cosponsor of this legislation. "Evidence is growing that this highly toxic metal 'hits and sticks' within a few hundred miles of power plant smokestacks," Alexander said. "We know mercury is harmful - grocery stores across America now post warnings from the Food and Drug Administration stating women of child-bearing age and children should not eat certain types of fish because of potentially high levels of mercury. It's past time for EPA to start establishing a new rule that protects the health of Americans." The Carper-Alexander legislation is a response to a Feb. 8, 2008, ruling by a federal appeals court rejecting the Bush administration's 2005 mercury rule. The legislation would require the EPA to propose a regulation of mercury pollution from power plants as was originally prescribed by the Clean Air Act. This regulation must include a reduction of mercury pollution by at least 90 percent and must be proposed no later than October 1, 2008. Alexander and Carper first introduced legislation putting stiff limits on mercury as part of the Clean Air Planning Act of 2003, and they reintroduced similar legislation in 2006. Last year, Alexander and Senator Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) introduced the Clean Air/Climate Change Act of 2007 that would also set strict limits on mercury pollution. In May of 2007, Alexander said Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen was on "exactly the right track" because he was studying ways to develop a state rule regulating mercury emissions form power plants. Alexander said a growing number of studies by the EPA and others are demonstrating that mercury tends to accumulate downwind of large mercury air emissions sources, such as coal-fired plants. The Smokies are already heavily affected by power plant emissions such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, Alexander said. Alexander has met with leading mercury scientists, including Gerald Keeler of the University of Michigan, who offered findings from a three-year study of mercury deposition in Steubenville, Ohio, that found more than 70 percent of mercury deposition came from local sources. "Because Tennessee has 59 coal-fired electric generating units spread among eleven plants from Memphis to Johnson City, it's very likely that every part of Tennessee is experiencing some mercury deposition from coal-fired power plants," Alexander said. Alexander said Tennessee's Department of Environment and Conservation last year expanded its list of advisories where fish pose a health threat due to high levels of mercury. Currently this "do not consume" warning is in effect for Norris Reservoir, which impacts Claiborne County for all bass species, Alexander said.