This story in the WSJ was based upon their obtaining access to a
suppressed EPA report on children's health and the environment.
When the Administration learned that the Journal was going to run
a story, it selectively leaked the most favorable parts of the story
to the NYT, in an attempt to provide damage control. The
Times story, having had access to only portions of the report,
treats it far more rosily.
February 20, 2003
Threat to Kids Rising, Unreleased EPA Report Warns
By JOHN J. FIALKA
WASHINGTON -- A report warning that emissions of mercury by coal-fired
power plants and other industrial sources poses an increasing health
danger to young children has been delayed for nine months, while
the Bush administration struggles with how to handle an increasingly
contentious environmental problem.
Environmental Protection Agency report is to be released soon, officials
said, after being subjected to an unusual level of scrutiny by a
half-dozen other federal agencies -- including the White House's
Office of Science and Technology Policy. But it isn't likely to
settle the mercury question. Among pollutants the report studied,
mercury is the only one for which levels aren't dropping.
partial draft, titled "America's Children and the Environment,"
notes that states increasingly are issuing warnings about dangerous
mercury levels in fish. It says there is mounting evidence that
mercury is collecting in the blood of women of child-bearing age.
evidence is also increasing, warns the EPA report, that high doses
of mercury can cause mental retardation and other neurological disorders
in infants. The report updates a 2000 version by the Clinton Administration
that included no findings on mercury.
mercury emissions has become a battle both in the Bush administration
and in Congress. President Bush has proposed legislation called
the Clear Skies Act that, among other things, would require industry
to cut mercury emissions in two steps: by 50% by 2010, and by 70%
the coal-mining industry and some coal-fired electric utilities
are working to weaken the reductions. Environmental groups, meanwhile,
want steeper cuts.
this administration, mercury has become a very sensitive issue,"
says Michael Magner, an analyst for the Public Education Center,
a nonprofit, pro-environment research group, who provided the draft
copy of the report, dated in October. People familiar with the final
report, originally due last May, confirmed it finds that mercury
poses a serious health problem for children.
report notes that children are more exposed and vulnerable to mercury
and other environmental pollutants because they play outside, and
for their size they drink more water, eat more food and breathe
more air than adults do.
when the final report will be released remains unclear. EPA spokesman
Joe Martyak says the document is "at the printer" and
"was well worth the effort." Sen. Barbara Boxer, who asked
the EPA for the report in October, was skeptical of that time frame.
"They have been sitting on this thing for months," says
the California Democrat. "We're wasting precious days during
which we could be strategizing on how to improve the health of our
experts both within EPA and in the larger health community are pressing
for steeper cuts than in the Clear Skies proposal, arguing that
unlike other pollutants, mercury is a persistent poison that tends
to accumulate in the food chain, particularly in fish.
as much mercury in the biosphere as we do is something we're going
to regret, I think, for a long, long time," says Amy D. Kyle,
an environmental-health scientist at the University of California
at Berkeley, and one of five authors of the EPA study. The authors
reviewed the 2000 EPA report on children's environmental exposures,
she said, and felt that mercury should be added "as a key issue."
draft report notes that children born to women with blood concentrations
of mercury above 5.8 parts per billion have a "higher risk
of adverse health effects." About 8% of women of child-bearing
age tested had "at least" that level of mercury in their
blood during the years 1999 and 2000, it states. Other medical evidence
has shown the risk is highest to fetuses and infants, while it isn't
clear what hazards adults face from mercury.
and the coal-mining industry, who are key supporters of President
Bush's energy plan, insist that trying to curb mercury emissions
from coal will be economically and technologically difficult. "Right
now there are no commercially available technologies for the control
of mercury emissions," says Carol Raulston, a spokeswoman for
the National Mining Association.
industry wants to postpone the proposed 70% cut, and she says technology
already available to cut emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen
oxides may have the "co-benefit" of meeting the 50% interim
cut in mercury emissions by 2010. "We don't want to attempt
further cuts until we see how the technology develops," she
utility industry, on the other hand, regards the 50% cut as "unrealistic,"
says Dan Riedinger, a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute,
the electric utilities' main trade association. The institute supports
the 70% reduction by 2018, however.
groups expect a separate set of regulations being prepared by the
EPA, under a provision of the Clean Air Act, to be stronger. The
act, adopted in 1970, allows the EPA to regulate mercury when it
views it as a health hazard, which it now does. Those regulations
are scheduled to be announced in December, unless Congress adopts
the Clear Skies Act, which would supersede them.
Clean Air regulations probably wouldn't allow companies to use emissions
trading to soften the financial cost of the new regulations, as
Clear Skies would.
emissions trading, companies that reduce emissions below federal
limits get credits, which they can then sell to companies that haven't.
Such trading allows plant managers to phase out older equipment
and finance the installation of new emissions-control equipment
that can cost hundreds of millions of dollars for power plants.