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Statement of Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich On Mercury From Coal-Fire Power Plants
Nov 17, 2004 -
Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH) issued the following statement today, at a hearing of the Government Reform Subcommittee on Energy Policy, Natural Resources, and Regulatory Affairs, on Mercury From Coal-Fire Power Plants:
Thank you Chairman Ose for the opportunity to speak at this important hearing.
I would like to focus my remarks on what is one of the most egregious examples of this Administration’s efforts to gut our environmental and health protections: the weakening of mercury in air standards from coal-fired power plants.
Mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants are the single biggest reason that there are fish consumption advisories specifically for mercury contamination in 45 states as of 2003. 45 states. The CDC says that roughly eight percent of American women of childbearing age have levels of mercury in their bodies that exceed what is considered safe for the fetus. A more recent study from the University of North Carolina puts the number closer to 20%.
A review of the health effects highlights the need to be cautious. Mercury concentrates in certain nerves in the body, often at the end of the nerves and alters the nerve cell’s ability to function. That’s why early signs of mercury poisoning include numbness and tingling in the extremities - the nerve cells are dying. It makes sense, then, that the brain, which contains a lot of nerves, is where much of the health damage is. And the most vulnerable are those whose brains are still developing.
Mercury crosses the placental barrier, which is normally supposed to help keep pollutants away from the fetus. In fact some newer studies show that the concentration in the fetus is often higher than in the mother. What does that mean for the fetus?
If the mother eats enough mercury-contaminated fish, the child could suffer from low birth weight, small head circumference, severe mental retardation, cerebral palsy, deafness, blindness, and seizures. The symptoms can occur even when there are no symptoms of mercury poisoning in the mother, again, because the mercury concentrates in the child.
If the dosage to the fetus is lower, the damage will be subtler and will occur later in the child’s development, but are still profound. Studies found deficits on behavioral tests like tests of attention, fine motor function, language, drawing abilities, and memory that were linked to low levels of mercury exposure in the womb. Note that these ailments are what’s called subclinical. In other words, you, as a parent, might not even notice that your child isn’t as dextrous or smart or attentive as she could have been if she weren’t exposed to mercury. This is to say nothing of the effects on adults.
That’s what makes the low level poisoning scenarios especially insidious: it is likely that these health problems will never even be noticed, much less definitively linked to mercury from coal fired power plants. So we may never know the collective damage we’re doing. And these kids are disadvantaged before they even take their first breath of air.
Worse, there’s no reason for it. The excuse we keep hearing from this administration is that the technology is not adequate to achieve the 90% end-of-pipe mercury reductions from coal-fired power plants that the public is calling for. And yet Public Service Electric and Gas Company (PSEG) fully supported a bill in Connecticut that requires a 0.6 pound per trillion BTU or 90% control efficiency. PSEG is one of the largest electric generating companies in the US with over 16,000 megawatts of electric generating capacity operating or under development in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and, Connecticut. In their testimony to the Connecticut State legislature in support of the bill, they had this to say:
We consider environmental performance to be one indicator of overall business performance, and experience has taught us that proactive steps to improve environmental performance can often lead to better bottom line results. That said, we never take our eye off of bottom line results. In our view, environment and economics are inseparable, and, as with many things in life, the secret to success is finding the balance. We are pleased to be here today (testifying in support of the mercury emission restrictions mentioned above), because we believe we have found that balance.
Reducing mercury from power plant stacks as much as technology will allow would go a long way toward correcting the ongoing mercury poisoning of Americans -- especially those with the least ability to defend themselves, our children. One of the biggest power generators in the country is on record as saying that not only is the pollution reduction technology available, but its good business to use it.
I look forward to hearing what EPA will be doing to achieve no less than the best public health protection we can give.