Congressman Adam Smith (D-Tacoma) announced today that he is sending a letter to EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt urging him to take a stronger stand on mercury pollution. Mercury is a highly toxic chemical whose effects on the central nervous system are comparable to those of lead, particularly for unborn fetuses and very young children whose brains are still developing.

“The Bush Administration should set the highest bar possible for mercury pollution,” said Smith. “Mercury exposure is on the rise, with the EPA estimating that 1 in 6 women of childbearing age in the United States have unsafe levels of mercury in their blood, and that as many as 630,000 children may be born each year with unhealthy levels of mercury in their blood.  As hundreds of thousands of people march this weekend in Washington, D.C. to protect women’s lives, we must tell the Bush Administration to take a stand on this dangerous substance and start reducing emissions immediately.”

During the 1990s, government regulation greatly reduced mercury emissions from medical and municipal waste incineration, leaving power plants as the main problem.  In 2000, the EPA determined that mercury is a hazardous substance as defined by the Clean Air Act, which requires it to be strictly controlled. Yet, the Bush Administration is proposing a plan that could create mercury “hot spots” throughout the country by allowing some power plants to avoid reducing mercury at all by permitting them to instead buy credits from other power plants in different locations that have made excess reductions.  The EPA also is proposing to regulate mercury as a non-toxic pollutant, requiring far less stringent controls.  Specifically, EPA’s proposed approach delays the day when power plants must install state-of-the-art mercury controls until at least 2018.

On this Earth Day, Smith also announced that he recently signed a trio of letters aimed at securing our nation’s energy future:

- The first letter expresses support for funding in the Energy and Water Appropriations bill for renewable energy programs at the Department of Energy.

- The second letter supports funding for Energy Efficiency Grant programs as well as Energy Efficiency Research and Development programs.

-  The third letter expresses his support for funding EPA’s Energy Star program.

Smith would like to see the United States eventually become a leading exporter of innovative renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies rather than an importer of foreign oil.

“Investments in these programs will help our country achieve the goal of exporting clean and renewable energy,” said Smith. “In addition to diversifying our energy supply, programs such as these will help to create new jobs, drive economic growth, and benefit our environment.”