Great news – we’re one giant step closer to ending needless mercury pollution from chlorine plants in the United States.
On Wednesday, the Mercury Pollution Reduction Act (HR 2190) passed a subcommittee vote that allows it to now be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce committee. The majority of bills die, unsung, in subcommittees. Now the act, which would phase out mercury pollution from chlorine plants within two years of its passage, has a very good fighting chance at becoming law.
In the process, Oceana’s allies in the House defeated two important amendments that would have seriously crippled this important bill. Olin Corporation, which owns two mercury-polluting plants, fought to have the deadline for mercury phaseout pushed back to 2020. Another amendment would have allowed companies to continue exporting mercury until 2013, when a ban goes into effect, essentially creating a “fire sale” on mercury.
If our campaigners hadn’t been on the scene at the subcommittee, the bill might have passed on in weakened form – or not at all.
This is also meaningful for Oceana because it represents an important threshold in our years-long campaign against mercury pollution, which eventually seeps into our seafood at levels dangerous to women of childbearing age and children.
When Oceana began its campaign in 2005, nine chlorine plants in the U.S. still used outdated technology that resulted in mercury emitted into our atmosphere and waterways. Five have switched to cleaner technology or shut down, thanks to our concentrated campaign which includes both legislative and grassroots efforts. We’re working hard on the final “Foul Four.”
And there’s no time to waste. In March, a new federal report found that mercury levels in the Pacific had increased in the past 20 years due to human activity, and levels are expected to double by the middle of this century unless we can control mercury emissions. And just last month, Oceana reported that the public health costs of mercury poisoning have cost the U.S. $24 million in lost economic productivity.
I can sense that the tide is turning against needless mercury pollution. As a senator, President Obama was an early supporter of ending these toxic emissions, and he has already signaled that he’s ready to tackle mercury on an international level.
[Andy Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana.]