Bush in Wonderland: easing mercury laws

The memorable and crazy Mad Hatter from “Alice in Wonderland” was a victim of mercury poisoning. With the announcement of his mercury proposal, it appears President George W. Bush has been exposed to a bit too much mercury himself.

Rather than advocating public health, the Bush administration’s mercury proposal is another instance of valuing votes over lives. Simply disregarding the environment and the well-being of the American people is unacceptable.

Bush’s mercury proposal rescinds Clinton administration rules that required mercury-emitting plants to install pollution controls. Instead, Bush’s proposal allows industries to buy and sell rights to emit mercury as long as total output remains under a regional limit. While the Bush administration’s proposal to use the cap-and-trade system with gases such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide is supported by many environmentalists, the same cannot be said for mercury.

Mercury is a toxin linked to causing autism, attention deficit disorder, Alzheimer’s disease and numerous developmental defects in fetuses. Additionally, mercury has been cited as the cause of numerous nervous and endocrine system problems. Bush’s proposal will allow mercury producers to continue releasing mercury

into the environment even though cost-effective pollution controls are available. Texas, the nation’s leader in mercury pollution, will benefit most from Bush’s proposal.

The largest U.S. mercury producer is the coal industry, whose lobbyists say if the Clinton-era requirements had been kept, they would have been forced out of business. But industries at the hands of change have used such arguments before for catalytic converters, seat belts and cigarette filters. In order for real change to occur in industry, the government must force change.

Environmentally progressive President Richard Nixon once said, “People should not have to pay for pollution they do not cause.” It is time for us to stop paying the price of mercury pollution caused by others.

Bush must wake up from his dreamlike stupor concerning the environment and act on behalf of the American people rather than profit-driven companies.