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Public Statements

Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Mr. PALLONE. Madam Chair, I offer this amendment to this legislation that will ensure that the public health of Americans is protected under the bill.

In December of last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released their Healthy People 2020 report. And this report is a culmination of a major undertaking initiated under the Bush administration and completed by the Obama administration. It sets goals and objectives with 10-year targets designed to guide national health promotion and disease prevention efforts to improve the health of all people in the United States.

In Healthy People 2020, HHS sets a goal to reduce the American people's exposure to mercury. Mercury can cause aggravated asthma, irregular heartbeat, heart attacks, and premature death in people with heart and lung disease. In addition, mercury is a potent neurotoxin. It is toxic to all of us, but it's particularly dangerous to our children. That's why as part of the Healthy People 2020 report, HHS set a goal to reduce concentrations of mercury found in children's blood samples by 30 percent by 2020.

Children who are exposed to mercury during pregnancy can suffer from a range of developmental and neurological abnormalities, including delayed onset of walking, delayed onset of talking, cerebral palsy, and learning disabilities. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that each year about 60,000 children may be born in the U.S. with neurological problems that could lead to poor school performance because of exposure to mercury.

Cement kilns are one of the largest sources of air-borne mercury pollution in the United States, and yet here we are, Madam Chair, debating bills on the House floor that would go in the opposite direction. We're talking about nullifying regulations that are already on the books to increase infants' and children's exposure to mercury by indefinitely delaying implementation of a law to reduce these toxic emissions from cement kilns.

When the rules were finalized last year to cut pollution from cement kilns, the EPA conducted an analysis of the effects of the rule. The agency found that this rule would cut emissions of mercury from cement plants by 92 percent--almost 17,000 pounds of mercury each year that would be prevented from being released into our environment. For some places, like in the heart of the Western United States, that means a reduction of mercury deposition by 30 percent. And now in one fell swoop, Madam Chair, this legislation will reverse that 30 percent reduction.

My amendment would not let this happen if doing so would interfere with achieving HHS' goal. It would prevent this bill from going into effect if it interferes with the Department of Health and Human Services' goal of reducing our children's exposure to mercury. And I don't want to see this legislation enacted if it's going to affect our children's ability to talk, read, write, or learn. I don't want more people to be at risk for asthma and heart attacks, and I want Health and Human Services to be able to do their job. If they have identified mercury exposure as a risk to our children and to our citizens, I want them to be able to minimize that risk, and we should not interfere.

So, Madam Chair, I urge my colleagues to support this amendment and ensure that we can keep our country progressing towards improved public health and keep our children safe from environmental pollutants.

I yield back the balance of my time.

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