Friday, February 6, 2009

Obama reversing a Bush decision on mercury pollution

While we are biting fingernails on the stimulus package, some real stuff is getting done.

President Barack Obama is abandoning a Bush administration appeal of an air pollution case, signaling that the government will embrace tougher rules to cut mercury emissions from power plants.

The case was soon to come before the Supreme Court. The Obama administration submitted papers Friday to the court asking for the case to be dismissed.

An appeals court last year rejected a Bush administration plan for regulating mercury emissions. It said the plan should not have included allowing utilities to purchase emission credits instead of actually reducing emissions.

Scientists fear mercury pollution leads to neurological problems in infants.

The power industry still has a separate petition challenging the appeals court ruling, which is unaffected by the Obama administration's action.

While the administration has signaled it is breaking with its predecessor's course on several issues, Friday's filing is the first outright reversal of a legal position taken by the Bush administration at the Supreme Court.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told reporters at a green jobs conference in Washington that the Obama administration would draft its own rules under the Clean Air Act to curb mercury emissions. She said the EPA would likely set limits on the toxic metal from power plants and other sources.

"We're better off spending all our resources making rules that will stick instead of fighting the courts on this one," Jackson said.

Environmentalists had argued that the Bush system would create "hot spots" of mercury contamination near some power plants. Seventeen states and health groups joined the lawsuit to block the regulation, and the appellate court sided with them.

In a two-page filing to the Supreme Court, Acting Solicitor General Edwin Kneedler says the EPA "has decided, consistent with the court of appeals' ruling, to develop appropriate standards to regulate power-plant admissions."


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