The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

EPA Shirks Court Order on Mercury Emissions

by Shreema Mehta

Dec. 13, 2006 – After a federal court ordered the EPA to set limits on mercury pollution from cement kilns, the EPA signed a rule last week that fails to impose them.

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In 2000, the US appeals court in Washington, DC ordered the EPA to impose limits on mercury and other air pollutants.

The EPA said that since individual cement kilns operate differently and use different raw materials, imposing specific methods to limit mercury emissions is useless. Pollution depends more on inputs than on the control used, the EPA argued.

But according to James Pew, a staff attorney with environmental law organization Earthjustice, that argument does not justify defying the court order. Earthjustice represents Sierra Club, which filed the lawsuit that led to the court order.

"There are a number of measures out there to control mercury," Pew said. "How they get to their best performance doesn’t make the slightest difference [to the] law."

According to EPA spokesperson John Millett, cement kilns release a total of 6.6 tons of mercury per year. That estimate is based on companies’ self-reporting along with EPA monitoring.

Mercury can impair neurological development in children and babies and damage cognitive function.

A Government Accountability Office report released this June found that the EPA has failed to properly control the release of toxic chemicals into the air as mandated by the 1990 Clean Air Act. While the EPA has made some progress in enacting Clean Air requirements for large sources of emissions such as industrial sites, it missed the deadline for most of them. The Agency has failed to meet most of the requirements for small sources of emissions such as gas stations or dry cleaners, which account for most toxic emissions, the report said.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Shreema Mehta is a staff journalist.

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