Is Mercury Just Excuse For EPA?

Environmental Protection Agency officials say we simply must do something about the growing problem of mercury being pumped into the environment. That’s interesting in view of a study indicating mercury emitted into the air in the United States decreased by 58 percent from 1990-2005.

Mercury is the primary pollutant targeted by the EPA’s planned “Utility MACT” regulations. Critics of the plan point out it will cost the economy billions of dollars a year and will kill tens of thousands of jobs.

Most members of the U.S. Senate – including Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio – are buying the EPA’s argument. Last week the Senate voted down an attempt to prevent the EPA from enforcing the MACT rules.

But before we shut down every coal-fired power plant in the United States, consider a few statistics from a United Nations study:

Only about 3 percent of the mercury emitted into the atmosphere each year – and remember, the amount is declining – comes from the United States. Mercury is emitted from a variety of sources (many natural, by the way). The U.N. says about 25 percent of the mercury sent into the atmosphere from human activity comes from power plants.

That being the case, shutting down every fossil-fuel power plant in the U.S. would reduce worldwide mercury emissions by less than 1 percent.

Want to really take a bite out of mercury emissions? Stop producing gold. Surely there’s a substitute for it in electronic applications. And can’t we do without a little bling?

Worldwide, production of gold sends approximately the same amount of mercury into the atmosphere as do power plants, according to the U.N.

There is a bottom line involving mercury in the environment: We can’t do much about it. A 2010 study under the auspices of the European Geophysical Union found that human activity – all of it – contributes less than half the mercury emissions that come from natural sources. And power plants account for less than one-sixth the amount from Mother Nature.

With all of this in mind, why is the EPA so determined to implement the MACT rules? To put meaningful curbs on mercury in place – or is it just an excuse to destroy the despised coal industry?

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