Thursday, April 13, 2006

EPA ordered to cough up secret mercury information

A federal judge today ordered the U.S. EPA to turn over information that the agency sought to hide about the potential impacts of cleaning up mercury pollution from coal-burning electric power plants.

The information has been sought by the attorney general of Massachusetts under the Freedom of Information Act. EPA has tried to keep the information a secret, citing an esoteric exemption under the information law.

Today the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts sided with the state and ordered EPA to cough up the material it has sought to keep under lock and key.

The material in question involves some computer simulations the EPA did to project the impact of tougher mercury requirements on the electric power industry.

The Bush administration has asserted that its industry-friendly 2005 emission-trading rule would be better for both the environment and industry than would tougher alternatives, including plans to require cleanup of mercury at every coal-burning plant. Industry spokesmen have made the reckless charge that such requirements would prompt more companies to shift from coal to natural gas.

Today’s decision does make you wonder just what EPA has been trying to hide.

This is the second controversial development this week involving EPA’s pitifully weak mercury requirements.

Earlier this week, the Financial Times quoted EPA Administrator Steve Johnson as blaming China for some of the mercury pollution problems in the U.S. (This guy said this while in China! – raising the hackles of Chinese officials. Today, Johnson claimed in Shanghai that “I was misquoted and taken out of context.”)

Frankly, Johnson should have been more concerned about the mercury pollution spewing out of U.S. smokestacks rather than those in China. Perhaps the suppressed information will shed more light on the matter.

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