More Mercury?

Coal-fired power plants will be able to emit more mercury under a Bush administration plan to reverse Clinton-era rulings.©Brian Howard

Regulation of air pollution has been a constant battleground since the Clean Air Act was passed in 1970, with environmentalists often fighting smokestack utilities (see "Blue Skies," cover story, November/December 1999). Now, imminent victory may turn into defeat as the Bush administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposes to weaken strong guidelines adopted under President Clinton. "This looks like a Christmas present for industry," says Michael Bender of the Mercury Policy Project, whose group has researched the close connections between Bush funders and mercury-emitting industries. The Clinton rules could have cost coal-burning utilities $7 billion a year. The new proposal would allow for tradable permits of mercury emissions, similar to the permits currently allowed for sulfur-dioxide emissions. Michael O. Leavitt, the EPA’s new administrator, claims this market-based system will lower mercury emissions, but critics say the credits will produce potentially dangerous hot spots of mercury contamination.

CONTACT: Mercury Policy Project, (802)223-9000, www.mercurypolicy.org

—Bronwyn Cooke

Go Green
Or Stay Home

Green travel remains controversial, and the report "Tourism and Biodiversity: Mapping Tourism’s Global Footprint" by Conservation International (CI) and the United Nations Environment Programme paints a decidedly mixed picture (see "Taking The Natural Path," cover story, July/August 2002). According to the report, the tourism industry has swelled from 25 million travelers in 1950 to over 450 million today. Travel to ecologically sensitive areas has risen more than 100 percent in the past decade, with good and bad results. The best thing about ecotourism, says the report, is that it can simultaneously quench travelers" thirst for adventure and benefit local people and wildlife. Costas Christ, a senior director at CI and the study’s head author, says, "By linking tourism development with biodiversity conservation and the well being of local communities, we can develop strategies that both conserve Earth’s most endangered ecosystems and help make a significant contribution to alleviating poverty."

CONTACT: Conservation International, (800)406-2306, www.conservation.org ; United Nations Environment Programme, (011)(254-2)621234, www.unep.org

—Christina Zarrella

Big Wind on the Cape

Cape Wind Associates, the company that proposed a wind farm in Nantucket Sound, has often pointed to a similar project off the coast of Denmark as a poster child for the industry (see "Legal Eagle," features, November/December 2003). Jan Toftdal, director of business development and tourism for a seaside resort near the Danish wind farm, reports that property values and tourism have gone up in the town since the turbines were constructed, contradicting the arguments of skeptics. The Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound responded with its own Danish expert—an outspoken critic of offshore wind development who claims that the two sites can’t be compared because they support different types of tourism. The New England project also faces a probable loss of congressionally mandated federal tax credits for wind power. However, Cape Wind President Jim Gordon says, "I believe plans for the wind farm will move forward," and he is counting on Congress to extend the tax credit retroactively, as it has twice in the past.

CONTACT: Cape Wind Associates, (617)904-3100, www.capewind.org