"Thank you all for joining me here today to provide comments on President Bush's controversial rollback of regulations limiting mercury emissions from power plants. Later this week, members of the U.S. House and Senate will be presenting these and other comments we have received on this proposed rule to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Mike Leavitt. It is our hope that the magnitude of comments EPA receives opposing this proposed rule will force the Bush administration to reevaluate this proposal, a proposal that seriously threatens the health of millions of Americans.
"The Bush administration's plan is unacceptable and we need to let them know that we oppose the weakening of our country's environmental laws.
"As a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce that oversees EPA's enforcement of the Clean Air Act, I am deeply concerned by the ongoing effort of the Bush administration to gut the Act and the years of success that we witnessed from its existence. Beside the recent proposal to forestall mercury emission reductions, the Administration has gutted the New Source Review program, allowing traditionally grandfathered power plants to spew more emissions in our air.
"The administration's proposals come at a time when 474 counties nationwide have failed to attain new federal ozone standards. In effect, the administration is placing the entire burden of air pollution reduction on the state when, in many instances, like New Jersey, much of the air pollution is the product of downwind sources such as coal fired generating stations.
"Last December, shortly after a scientific panel urged the federal government to warn pregnant women and children about mercury contamination in fish, the Bush administration published a proposed rule that would give power plants nearly 15 additional years to reduce mercury emission pollution. This proposed rule reverses the Clinton administration determination that mercury is, in fact, a hazardous substance as defined by the Clean Air Act requiring immediate reductions.
"The previous administration's proposal would have lead to a 90 percent reduction in mercury from power plants by 2008. But today, the current administration has yielded to pressure from the industry and chosen to delay full reductions in mercury emissions from 2007 to 2030. Further the Bush administration allows individual plants to purchase trade-able credits that will allow power plants to actually increase their mercury emissions. The 1,100 facilities that will benefit from this rule account for the largest unregulated industrial source of mercury contamination spewing more than 48 tons of mercury poison into the air each year.
"This effort places the health of millions of Americans at risk, especially pregnant women and children. To date, mercury pollution has contaminated 30 percent or 12 million acres of our nation's lakes, estuaries and wetlands, and 473,000 miles of streams, rivers and coastlines. While the Administration has proposed to allow increases in this pollution, the recreational and commercial fishing industry is hard hit by the impact of national and state mercury fish warnings.
"As everybody here knows, there are very harmful health effects of air pollution from coal burned in power plants. Mercury toxins in the air result in mercury-contaminated fish, which has devastating health effects when consumed at unsafe levels, especially by pregnant women and children.
"The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) recommended tough standards on protecting pregnant women and infants from mercury in seafood. While the EPA and FDA were working together on a joint fish-consumption advisory that warns women of childbearing years and children to consume no more than 12 ounces of tuna and other fish per week, I was extremely disappointed to see that last month, the FDA released a "new" advisory with dangerous advice on seafood consumption.
"The FDA continues to be reluctant to provide pregnant women with the best information available on safe levels of seafood consumption. For example, if FDA's advice is followed and women eat one can of albacore tuna a week, hundreds of thousands or additional babies will be exposed to hazardous levels of mercury. Currently, 8 percent of women of childbearing age in the United States have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood, and according to the EPA, 630,000 babies are born with elevated levels of mercury in their blood.
"From a public health perspective, the FDA is at fault for encouraging excessive consumption of mercury-contaminated seafood by pregnant women, women of childbearing age, and children. A direct result of this unfortunate action will be the increase of childhood development disorders linked to mercury, such as autism.
"For a long time, I have encouraged an investigation of the FDA's Expert Advisory Panel's ties to the seafood industry, and the March advisory further proves my point that the FDA is back-pedaling on scientific findings about the harmful amounts of mercury contained in seafood.
"I plan on introducing legislation this week to ensure that the public is fully informed about the adverse effects of mercury exposure through fish consumption and that an appropriate advisory, along with a public explanation, is distributed appropriately on the Federal, State and local levels. In addition, the legislation will require the FDA to resume its seafood methyl-mercury monitoring program to better document mercury levels in various fish species.
"I believe that my legislation as well as our concerted and joined effort to pressure the Bush administration not to backslide on reducing mercury emissions from power plants are critically important. We must put mercury emissions reduction back on the right track, and see actual reductions by 2008, not 2030."