Reducing Mercury Emissions

Despite what many environmental groups have claimed, President Bush's mercury rule is the first ever regulation to reduce mercury emissions in the United States. Currently, the United States has the lowest mercury emissions in the world, and the President's proposal will lower emissions even further.

The Clean Air Act Amendments, signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, required the Environmental Protection Agency to study and release a report on mercury impacts on the environment and public health. The EPA released its report in 1997, well past the Congressionally mandated deadline.

After the report's release, a bipartisan group of Senators urged EPA Administrator Carol Browner to release a plan to reduce mercury emissions. Finally, in December 2000, only hours after Al Gore had conceded the election, Browner announced that mercury would be classified as a toxic air pollutant, but offered no plan to reduce emissions.

The Bush Administration inherited the issue and set a first-ever regulation mandating 70% mercury emission reductions from power plants by 2018. This will reduce an estimated 14 tons of mercury nationwide, or 29%, by 2007.

Currently, the mechanism on how to achieve this reduction is under review and public comment. Whether a market-based, cap-and-trade approach (which was highly successful in reducing sulfur emissions that cause acid rain) or a command-and-control approach that would utilize Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) will be used is being considered.