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Public Statements

Mercury Export Ban Act of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

MERCURY EXPORT BAN ACT OF 2008 -- (House of Representatives - September 27, 2008)


Mr. ALLEN. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of S. 906, the Senate companion to my legislation, the Mercury Export Ban of 2008.

This bill includes several changes that represent a compromise with the Senate, but at its heart is my legislation that passed with strong bipartisan support in the Energy and Commerce Committee and by voice vote on the floor of the House last November.

I want to thank Chairman Dingell, former Chairman Wynn, Ranking Member Barton and Mr. Shimkus for the work they have done on this legislation. I also want to express my gratitude to Senators OBAMA and MURKOWSKI for introducing this legislation on the Senate side and to Senator Boxer for her efforts. I would also like to thank Jim Bradley of my staff for all his hard work on this bill. Upon its passage today, this bill will be sent to the President to be signed into law.

It is a well-established fact that mercury is a powerful neurotoxin, harmful at even low levels of exposure. Mercury is harmful whether it is inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin. Once exposed to water, elemental mercury is transformed to methylmercury, which is highly toxic and which has a tendency to bio-accumulate in both fish and humans who eat the fish.

Very young children with developing nervous systems are particularly at risk. In addition, pregnant mothers who are exposed to mercury pollution can transmit mercury to their unborn children, increasing the chances of miscarriage and birth defects. Mercury can also be found in high concentrations in women's breast milk.

My bill seeks to combat a large source of mercury pollution worldwide, namely, the export of elemental mercury from the United States to developing countries. This mercury is used largely for our artisanal mining. Exposure occurs when miners handle the mercury. It enters the water when miners pan for gold and gets into the air through the smelting process which emits mercury vapor.

According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, approximately 15 million people worldwide, including 4.5 million women and 1 million children, engage in artisanal mining with mercury, exposing them to the poisons that mercury produces. Some of this mercury is exported from the United States. That should be unacceptable to us.

The export of mercury for artisanal mining harms Americans who are exposed through the global air transport of mercury pollution or through the consumption of mercury-contaminated fish.

The Environmental Protection Agency reports that as of 2004, 44 States, including my State of Maine, have fish advisories that cover 13 million acres of water and over 75,000 miles of rivers and streams.

Scientists have estimated that up to one-third of U.S. mercury air pollution has traveled to the U.S. from Asia where mercury pollution is extensive, including pollution from mercury exported for artisanal mining.

Much of the fish we eat, including tuna, is imported from off the coasts of Asian and South American countries where the use of mercury in artisanal mining is widespread.

The Departments of Defense and Energy are the two largest holders of mercury in the United States. The Environmental Protection Agency has urged DOE and DOD not to sell its mercury stockpiles due to the serious human health and environmental risks associated with mercury. DOD and DOE have agreed. However, that ban is not in law, which is why my bill prohibits the Federal Government from exporting mercury. In addition, private companies may still export this poisonous and hazardous material, which is why this legislation is vital.

The Mercury Export Ban Act before us today is the result of a months-long stakeholder process on House side that worked to develop a consensus product. Stakeholders included the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Council of the States, the American Chemistry Council, the Chlorine Institute and the National Mining Association. There are not many pieces of legislation that move through this Congress supported by such a diverse group.

The bill prohibits the export of elemental mercury from the United States and requires DOE to designate a long-term storage facility to accept mercury from private sector sources, particularly the chlor-alkali industry and the mining industry, when the export ban in the bill takes effect on January 1, 2013. The bill does not require that all excess mercury be transferred to DOE, rather it gives the private sector the option of placing mercury into storage at DOE. If there is a more practical or more cost-effective private sector solution, the affected industries are more than welcome to pursue that option.

DOE will be allowed to charge a fee to recoup the government's cost of storing this waste. In addition, all applicable and appropriate environmental laws apply with respect to this facility.

The legislation will allow the chlor-alkali industry to place into safe storage the roughly 1,500 tons of mercury stockpiled at aging plants. It will also allow the mining industry to store the approximately 50 to 100 tons of mercury it generates annually as a byproduct of our air filtration systems.

The process used to develop this legislation can be a modeled. On a bipartisan basis, we sat down together. We worked out our differences and brought interested and affected parties to the table to hammer out a compromise.

I also want to thank a number of staff on the Energy and Commerce Committee, including Dick Frandsen, Caroline Ahearn from the majority staff, along with Ann Strickland, who has now left, as well as Dave McCarthy and Jerry Couri from the minority staff and Mo Zilly, formerly of Mr. Shimkus' staff, for their hard work as well.

Mr. Speaker, this is good legislation, and I urge all Members to support its passage.

With that, Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.


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