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As the March 15 deadline nears for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to announce its new rules for governing mercury pollution from power plant emissions (BGW, March 3, 2005), controversy continues to erupt over the validity of the scientific standards being utilized by EPA.
This week, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that the EPA analysis, on which the standards will be based, had distorted its analysis by failing to fully document the toxic impact of mercury on human brain development, learning ability and neurological functioning. The GAO called on EPA to correct its analysis before issuing a final rule.
Last month EPA's inspector general released a report asserting that EPA ignored both scientific evidence and agency protocols in order to set a timetable and standards consistent with the Bush Administration's desire to relieve coal-burning power plants of Clean Air Act requirements that such plants install the newest and best pollution control technology when they expand.
In the report by EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley, EPA was charged with setting unrealistically low limits on mercury pollution and then working backwards to justify its upcoming rule.
As for the GAO report, EPA spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman told the Washington Post that the final rule would include comparisons between the impacts as measured by EPA and the impacts measured by its critics. 
Environmentalists strenuously object to the Bush Administration's plan to use a cap-and-trade system for mercury pollution, in which an overall limit would be set, with individual plants trading pollution credits. Environmental health organizations argue that such a system has never been used when toxic chemicals are involved.
They say this would allow dangerous levels of pollution to continue to threaten populations both near the power plants and those downwind from the plants.
Mercury contamination of fish has become a serious enough problem that both the Food and Drug Administration and dozens of states have issued health advisories recommending that women of childbearing age reduce consumption of several types of fish, and that they refrain altogether from eating shark and swordfish.
Environmental health groups support a Clinton Administration plan, which called for a 90 percent emissions reduction by 2008. The Bush Administration has proposed a 70 percent reduction by 2018. Despairing of persuading the administration to change the expected rule, environmental groups are gearing up to fight the standard in court.
-------------------- "Six words: drop out, turn on, then come back and tune it in -and then drop out again, and turn on, and tune it back in-it's a rhythm- most of us think God made this universe in nature-subject object-predicate sentences-turn on, tune in, drop out- period, end of paragraph. Turn the page- it's all a rhythm- it's all a beat. You turn on, you find it inside, and then you have to come back (since you can't stay high all the time) and you have to build a better model. But don't get caught - don't get hooked - don't get attracted by the thing you're building, cause... you gotta drop out again. It's a cycle. Turn on, tune in, drop out. Keep it going, keep it going- the nervous system works that way. gotta keep it flowing- keep it flowing.
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