Three-Eyed Fish Alert! Texas No. 1 in Power Plant, Mercury Emissions

Toxin linked to birth defects

Even though Sen. John Cornyn advocates protecting unborn fetuses from abortion, neither he nor colleague Kay Bailey Hutchison voted recently for the narrowly defeated Leahy-Collins resolution, which would have blocked industry-favored EPA rule changes that will permit drastically more mercury pollution from power plants, putting one in six pregnant women in the U.S. at risk of giving birth to kids with permanent brain damage or other defects. The contentious vote came days after the release of a new report by the Texas Public Interest Research Group titled "Made in the U.S.A.," identifying Texas as the No. 1 state for power plant mercury emissions, based on the latest EPA Toxics Release Inventory data.

The report found that U.S. power plants in 2003 emitted more than 90,000 lbs. of airborne mercury, a powerful neurotoxin linked to diseases of the brain, heart, and immune system, with Texas power plants contributing 9,099. Titus Co. ranked highest in mercury emissions with 1,404 pounds, 15% of the state's total, thanks entirely to TXU's Monticello Steam Electric Station and Lignite Mine, a coal power plant located near Mount Pleasant. The report found that the nation's 15 most polluting plant operators accounted for 54% of overall emissions. The nation's worst mercury emitter, American Electric Power, has Texas facilities in Harrison, Camp, Wilbarger, and Goliad counties. AEP is followed by Southern Company and Reliant.

At a TexPIRG press conference a few weeks ago, Brackenridge Hospital obstetrician Charles Brown said the most documented health risks from mercury occur in pregnant women who ingest mercurial compounds incorporated into the food chain. "There have been numerous reports over the last 40 to 50 years documenting mercury's adverse effects [on] the developing of the fetus of a child after it's born, including mental retardation, cerebral palsy, seizures, and neurologic dysfunction," Brown said. He noted numerous recent EPA advisories for pregnant women against eating certain fish, due to high mercury content. In the U.S., 44 states have issued mercury-related fish-consumption advisories. Twelve bodies of water in Texas carry advisories, including 329,784 acres of lakes and the Gulf of Mexico.

Karen Hadden, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, said there are six proposed new coal facilities in Texas. "If built, the new facilities could lead to thousands of pounds of additional mercury pollution when we should be reducing it for the sake of our children," Hadden said. "The U.S. should be demanding the use of existing domestic pollution-control technology to clean up coal, and marketing it around the globe."

The EPA resolution, sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, would have voided a March 2005 Bush administration rule declaring that mercury emissions from power plants "do not pose hazards to public health" and rescinding a 2000 EPA finding that these emissions are so potentially damaging that they require the strictest limits under the Clean Air Act. This cleared the way for the industry-favored "cap-and-trade" rule that delays mercury-specific controls until at least 2018 and lets power plants buy and trade the right to pollute. "We were sorely disappointed," said TexPIRG's Kim Frusciante, "that Senators Cornyn and Hutchison cleared the way for the Bush administration's dangerous rule to go forward."

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