Tilting at smokestacks

September 12, 2005

CHANCES ARE you've got mercury pollution. Most people in the Baltimore metropolitan area probably do, thanks to the presence of the Brandon Shores and Wagner power plants that spew 670 tons of mercury into the air every year.

Mercury is a neurotoxin, particularly dangerous to children, that attacks the brain and nervous system. Federal scientists estimate that one in six women of child-bearing age has enough mercury in her body to put her offspring at risk.

Technology is available to drastically reduce mercury emissions, but utility companies don't want to spend the money to install it. So President Bush voided a regulation that would have required roughly a 90 percent emission reduction by 2007 and replaced it with a much weaker requirement that won't take effect until at least 2018.

FOR THE RECORD - An editorial on Monday incorrectly tallied annual mercury emissions from two Baltimore-area power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency lists the amount as 670 pounds.
The Sun regrets the error.

Senate opponents, particularly in the Northeast, are so outraged they are asking their colleagues to overturn this regulation in a vote scheduled for today. We strongly urge a tally so overwhelming that both Mr. Bush and the House will take notice.

Sadly, the odds are not good that the House will pass and the president will sign into law a repeal of his gift to the utility industry - no matter what the Senate does. But the streamlined procedure being used to force a Senate vote at least brings the issue up for public debate, which is more than the regulatory process allows.

Advisories have now been issued in 43 states warning against consuming certain fish and shellfish because of their high mercury levels. Americans have a right to hear why their health - and the health of potentially brain-damaged children - ranks behind power industry concerns.

Mercury pollution of the air and water can be reduced quickly once the technology is installed. All that's required are political leaders with the courage and compassion to make it happen.

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