WASHINGTON -- President Bush is siding with his Democratic predecessor on two air pollution issues, agreeing to regulate mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants and requiring cleaner diesel fuel and engines.
Environmentalists expressed delight Tuesday that the Bush administration is asking a federal appeals court to uphold a Clinton-era plan on mercury pollution regulation.
"This is a strong indication that they support moving forward with a national standard for mercury emissions from power plants," said Andy Buchsbaum, a spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation, which joined in asking the court to let the EPA regulate mercury emissions.
The Environmental Protection Agency asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Monday to dismiss a suit challenging the agency's decision in December to begin ordering reductions in the estimated 40 tons of mercury spewed annually from power plant smokestacks.
It was a rare instance of the Bush administration's agreeing with former President Clinton and environmentalists and going against an industry whose executives overwhelmingly supported Bush's election.
The first instance came in March when the Bush EPA said it would enforce rather than challenge a rule issued in the waning days of the Clinton presidency that goes after diesel trucks and buses as sources of dirty air.
The government motion on mercury regulation says the suit by the Edison Electric Institute -- a trade association of investor-owned utilities -- and another industry group is premature since the EPA has taken no final action yet.
"The preliminary decision to list a hazardous air pollutant or a category of sources emitting such pollutants is unambiguously defined not to be a final agency action subject to judicial review," the motion said.
Edison spokesman Dan Riedinger said, however, that the aim was not to overturn the EPA decision but to give utilities "a prudent and realistic goal" and more leeway in meeting the eventual new standards.
Bush promised during his presidential campaign to cut power plants' emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and carbon dioxide. He recanted the carbon dioxide pledge last month, saying he had since learned it was not a pollutant under the Clean Air Act.
Exposure to mercury, most often through the food chain starting with fish consumption, has been linked to neurological and developmental damage in humans. Fetuses and young children are particularly vulnerable.
The EPA has long regulated mercury emissions from incinerators and other sources but not from power plants. At present, utilities are not even required to report the amount of mercury coming from their smokestacks.
On the Net:
EPA mercury site: http://www.epa.gov/mercury/index.html
Edison Electric Institute: http://www.eei.org
National Wildlife Federation: http://www.nwf.org
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