PennFuture praises EQB for overwhelming vote to reduce mercury from power plants

Governor and DEP secretary lauded for Environmental Quality Board vote to write regulations requiring Pennsylvania's coal-fired power plants reduce toxic mercury pollution. The 16-3 vote shows strong support of the petition asking for a state limit on mercury filed by Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), on behalf of its members and a coalition of over 60 organizations including health care, sporting, women's rights, faith-based, children's advocacy and conservation organizations...

HARRISBURG, PA, Aug. 16, 2005 (PRNewswire) -- Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) today praised Gov. Ed Rendell, Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Sec. Kathleen McGinty and the overwhelming majority of the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) for voting to move forward to write regulations requiring Pennsylvania's coal-fired power plants to reduce their toxic mercury pollution. Today's 16-3 vote by the EQB showed strong support of the petition asking for a state limit on mercury filed by PennFuture, on behalf of its members and a broad coalition of more than 60 organizations including health care, sporting, women's rights, faith-based, children's advocacy and conservation organizations.

"This is a great day for the health of Pennsylvanians," said John Hanger, President and CEO of PennFuture. "With one woman out of every six of childbearing age carrying amounts of mercury in their bodies that are great enough to cause brain damage to their developing fetus or nursing newborn, we have a public health emergency. And this emergency is causing havoc not just to the families, but to health care facilities, schools, social service agencies and the community as a whole.

"Despite heavy lobbying against the regulation by the polluters, the Rendell Administration, DEP Secretary McGinty and the EQB stood firm, fighting for stringent rules requiring the power plants to stop spewing mercury," continued Hanger. "The families of Pennsylvania will be the true beneficiaries of their political courage.

"It is especially regrettable that Democratic Sen. Raphael Musto chose to side with the polluters and the Bush Administration's illegal mercury rule, rather than with Gov. Rendell, Secretary McGinty and the public health, sporting and conservation communities," continued Hanger. "In the future, we hope that Sen. Musto will follow the lead of Rep. Camille 'Bud' George (D - Clearfield) who voted today to support this vital regulation. We thank Representative George for his vote."

According to DEP, Pennsylvania ranks second in the nation for the amount of toxic mercury pollution, and 77% of the mercury released to air comes from the state's coal-fired power plants. Mercury from the plants' smokestacks comes back to the land and water as rain, absorbed by plants and fish and wildlife. Eventually, mercury from eating fish accumulates in humans, where it can cause brain damage by passing through the placenta to developing fetuses and to newborn babies through breast milk.

Fish in Pennsylvania are heavily tainted by mercury, with advisories posted statewide warning anglers to restrict their consumption of local fish to one per week. For this reason, sporting groups such as the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs and Pennsylvania Trout have lobbied heavily for adoption of more stringent mercury controls. Hunters and anglers have expressed concerns that failure to protect the state's fish and wildlife from mercury contamination both harms public health, but also damages the state's vital sports tourism. Recent studies in Florida, Wisconsin and New Hampshire found a significant drop in mercury levels in fish and birds -- within a few years -- when local incinerators were required to cut emissions by 90%.

In August 2004, PennFuture petitioned the Environmental Quality Board, asking that DEP adopt regulations requiring a 90% reduction in mercury released into the air by power plants in Pennsylvania, a rule similar to one in use in New Jersey. PennFuture took this action on behalf of its members and health care professionals, other environmental organizations and children's advocates, faith-based, sporting and women's rights groups. In May 2005, DEP agreed to consider rules for mercury regulations and also joined with other states to sue the federal government for its failure to regulate mercury. On July 27, 2005, Sen. Mary Jo White, Rep. William Adolph, Jr. and Sen. Raphael Musto sent a letter to DEP Secretary McGinty, urging that DEP take no action to protect the health of Pennsylvanians from toxic mercury. On Aug. 3, PennFuture and others sent McGinty a response to that letter, urging DEP to continue its work on rulemaking.

PennFuture (www.pennfuture.org) is a statewide public interest membership organization that advances policies to protect and improve the state's environment and economy. With offices in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, PennFuture's activities include litigating cases before regulatory bodies and in local, state and federal courts, advocating and advancing legislative action on a state and federal level, public education and assisting citizens in public advocacy.

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