The Bush Administration's plan to reduce mercury pollution has been struck down by a federal U.S. Court of Appeals, in part because the plan did not require every coal-fired power plant to reduce emissions.
Mercury attacks the brain, and can disrupt a child's normal mental development.
The 2005 rule required the first nationwide control of mercury pollution, which is formed from burning coal, among other things (cement-making, another major source, was not restricted, for instance). But environmentalists criticized the rule because individual plants would still be allowed to emit mercury, so long as their parent companies achieved enough of a reduction.
A similar cap-and-trade regulation worked to cut acid rain pollution nationwide, but environmentalists argued it wasn't right for mercury, which poses an acute risk in particular lakes, where fish become contaminated, and then threaten the health of fishermen and their families. Many states agreed, and either sued to strengthen the rule, and/or set their own strict rules for mercury emitters.
In the short term, though, the court decision could have the perverse effect of allowing mercury pollution for a longer period of time. While the Environmental Protection Agency returns to the drawing board, power plants that aren't subject to state laws won't be required to reduce emissions. It's unclear whether the Bush Administration's goal of a 70% reduction in nationwide mercury emissions can still be achieved by 2018, given the need to rewrite the law.
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