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Nearly one-third of the House members sent a letter to President Bush Sunday, urging him not to weaken controls on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.
John Heilprin of the Associated Press reported that the 138 signers from the East and Midwest, where regional air quality and drifting pollution from power plants has long been a major worry, included 14 Republicans and Rep. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt.
"Mercury emissions jeopardize the environment and public health, especially the health of young children," the House members wrote.
This results from the fact that fish absorb mercury, a metal that accumulates in bodies as it travels up the food chain, and can especially damage development of the growing brains of fetuses and young children.
Spearheading the letter-writing to the president were Illinois Reps. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat, and Mark Kirk, a Republican, House Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y., and Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine.
Ever since the late 1990s, the Environmental Protection Agency has been regulating mercury dumped in water and air from municipal waste and medical waste incinerators. The agency currently is writing regulations for mercury emitted from coal-fired power plants, due for implementation between 2005 and 2009, an agency spokeswoman said Monday. As proposed, Bush's "Clear Skies" law would phase in reductions beginning in 2010.
Administration officials have argued that, because the regulations being written probably will be challenged in court, differences in the timetable for actual reductions would not be that great. Industry has asked for more time to meet standards now being written.
Environmentalists who supported the lawmakers' letter said mercury contamination from power plants is a growing public health threat. They cited 43 states that now have warnings against consuming too much fish, compared with only 27 states giving such warnings 10 years ago.