In marked contrast to U.S. policy, Canadian environment ministers have agreed on a draft plan to reduce mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants north of the border by as much as 58 percent by 2010. The plan calls for the utilization of cleaner-burning coal and the widespread implementation of technological fixes to help implement the reduction in emissions.
“We believe these are realistic and achievable and good goals,” said Kerry Morash, chair of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. “We certainly have the science that backs up the suggestions that have been put forward.”
Mercury generated from electric power plants is a known toxin that can cause organ damage and compromise the central nervous system in humans. Mercury exposure has also been linked to learning disabilities, mental retardation and blindness in children.
Meanwhile, on the domestic front, the Bush administration is backing a proposal by its Environmental Protection Agency to cap mercury emissions beginning in 2010 by allowing American power utilities to trade the right to pollute through a market-based system similar to the one successfully implemented to curb acid rain during the 1990s. But critics fear that such a plan will not provide sufficient remediation in those areas hardest hit by mercury contamination, such as New England.
’‘We support the acid rain trading program,” said John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington DC-based environmental group. ‘‘But like the vast majority of states and public health officials, we oppose trading in a neurotoxin, like mercury."