From: Kevin Moran, Houston Chronicle
Published October 27, 2004 12:00 AM

Utility Industry Official Disputes Galveston Bay Mercury Emissions Warnings

Oct. 27—GALVESTON, Texas — Bush administration policies will allow coal-burning power plants to spew six times more mercury into the air in the next decade than the federal Clean Air Act now permits, two Texas environmental groups said Tuesday.


But an industry spokesman said the Bush administration is proposing the first mercury-emission regulations and that the nationwide emission total can only go down in the next 10 years.


The battle over mercury emissions came to Galveston Island on Tuesday when environmental groups issued two reports that show hazardous levels of mercury exist in some fish.


These include mackerel and large-mouth bass, commonly caught and eaten in Texas.


The mercury can cause problems in children, including impaired memory, vision and language problems, the groups said.


"Mercury contamination is at dangerous levels in many of Texas' favorite fishing spots, like Stewart Beach in Galveston," said Stephanie Carter, spokeswoman for the Texas Public Interest Research Group.


Fish caught in Galveston Bay are considered safe to eat, but sharks and other large predator fish caught offshore are not, Carter said.


Carter, along with representatives of the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention, called on the Bush administration to force power plants to reduce mercury emissions by 90 percent by 2008.


Such reductions are unrealistic, said Frank Maisano, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based industry group Electric Reliability Coordinating Council.


"We can't meet that goal because the technology is not available to meet it," Maisano said.


Maisano said a proposed plan to put a cap on power-plant mercury emissions nationwide and allow plants to reduce emissions without facing a 2008 deadline will produce quicker mercury cleanups at some of the nation's dirtiest power plants.


Carter said the plan that Maisano's group and the Bush administration favor will allow utility companies to continue spewing dangerous levels of mercury into the air until 2018.


"Right now, we can get 90 percent mercury reduction from existing technology at each and every power plant across the country by 2008," Carter said.


Dana Perino, a spokeswoman for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said Tuesday that mercury has not been covered by Clean Air Act regulations calling for 90 percent reductions of some pollutants.


The government under the President Clinton's administration did agree in a settlement of a lengthy court battle to come up with mercury-reduction regulations but never did, Perino said.


"The Bush administration is the first to do that," Perino said.


People who want more information about mercury contamination of fish can get it by visiting www.texpirg.org and www.ghasp.org on the Internet.


Information on mercury contamination also is available on the federal Environmental Protection Agency Web site, www.epa.gov/mercury.


MERCURY IN FISH
Some fish recommended for consumption:
—Catfish
—Redfish
—Tuna (canned, chunk light)
—Mahi-mahi
Some fish to avoid:
—Grouper
—Orange roughy
—Shark
—Swordfish
Source: Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention

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