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GAO Clears the Air on EPA Pollution Analysis

Friday, March 11, 2005

The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) took the EPA to task this week for using fuzzy math and ignoring health effects to bolster President Bush’s cap-and-trade proposal for mercury emissions from power plants, The Washington Post reports. The EPA skewed its analysis to indicate that the administration’s proposal would garner greater savings than enforcing pollution caps on all plants, the technology-based plan favored by conservationists.

The EPA cooked its books by including savings from the Clear Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), a cap-and-trade proposal to reduce sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. The agency estimated savings of $55 billion to $68 billion for the cap-and-trade, or market-based, mercury proposal, well above the $13 billion savings released for the technology-based plan. EPA also used what the GAO’s report characterized as uncertain, “last-resort” methods for calculating the value of reduced mercury emissions, and failed to account for the health effects of mercury on women of childbearing age and children.

The GAO’s rebuke comes on the heels of a report from EPA’s inspector general stating that EPA scientists had been pressured to mold their findings to support the industry-backed cap-and-trade proposal.

President Bush’s “Clear Skies” air pollution bill was defeated by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Wednesday, at least temporarily allaying fears that the EPA’s distorted mercury analysis may have been a ploy to help push the bill through Congress.

Mercury causes developmental and neurological problems in children and fetuses and increased risk of heart attack and stroke in middle-aged men. Exposure has also been linked to autism. Pregnant women and children should moderate their consumption of some types of fish, including tuna, which are particularly high in mercury. For more information, please see the Environmental Working Group’s reports, New Government Fish Tests Raise Mercury Concerns and Overloaded? Mercury and Autism.

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