Today's news brings us another example of the Bush Administration's neglect and dangerous ideological extremism when it comes to basic standards of air and water pollution. As if putting more arsenic and human sewage in Americans' drinking water isn't enough, George W. Bush and his White House aides have come up with a new poison to let loose, into the air this time: Mercury.
It's a fact: George W. Bush and new EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt have acknowledged that they plan to let their friends in big energy corporations pump more mercury into the air that drifts through American neighborhoods in small towns, cities and even the countryside.
This decision comes just one day after Mike Leavitt takes control as new Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, a position which has been left vacant for months after the surprise resignation of Christie Whitman. That resignation is widely believed to be the result of Bush Administration insiders' refusal to cooperate with Whitman's efforts to promote a reasonable, middle-of-the-road environmental policy.
The political spin masters inside the Bush White House seemed sensitive to the perception that they had put up a political blockade reasonable environmental policy. They promoted Mike Leavitt, former governor of Utah, as a moderate choice who would take positions that would satisfy both business and environmental needs.
Oops, they did it again. They lied through their teeth. The decision to let coal burning plants spew as much mercury as they can afford into the air shows that Mike Leavitt is not an environmental moderate. Unfortunately, Leavitt appears to take the dangerous, extremist pro-polluter position of his new boss, George W. Bush.
Leavitt and Bush seem determined to destroy the Clean Air Act by any means necessary. Don't take our word for it. Listen to Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Clean Air Trust, who says "It shows that Leavitt is taking orders from the White House, which is influenced by the power companies that want to gut the mercury requirements."
We've said that Bush's new policy would allow energy companies to release as much mercury into the air as they can afford. That's a pretty serious claim, we know, but it's true. You see, the Bush-Leavitt proposals would allow heavy polluters to simply purchase "pollution credits" in order to compensate for the amount of mercury they expose the American public to.
Bush and the Republican elite think that letting energy plants pollute as much as they can afford to is a great idea. They call it the "free market". Of course, it's only the energy corporations that are getting off scott-free. The rest of us have to deal with the consequences, and breathe in the poisons that result.
Don't believe it? Check out this article from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on December 3, 2003
The practical consequences of a no-limits system of mercury pollution are pretty serious, at least for those of us who can't afford to buy a dude ranch in a secluded, unpolluted area. Under Bush's plan, some Americans will just have to deal with an immense amount of poison that the free market decides will be dumped into the air in their neighborhood, instead of Kennebunkport, where the Bush family vacations.
Mercury is nothing to play around with. It's a neurotoxin, and just a small amount can kill. No more than a few drops can permanently contaminate a large area of topsoil, turning rich farmland into toxic waste.
Felice Stadler, an expert on mercury poisoning, says of the new Bush-Levitt policy on mercury pollution, "It's a dream come true for energy companies and a nightmare for children's health."
What's ironic is that mercury poisoning can cause abortion. Yes, that's right, abortion of unborn children. You see, when pregnant mothers are exposed to dangerous levels of mercury, the brains of the children growing within their wombs fail to develop. Put a lot of mercury into the air, as Bush is proposing to do, and you'll have otherwise healthy babies being born dead and deformed.
What is it about Bush, that he opposes the right of a woman to choose to get an abortion procedure even when her health is seriously threatened, but he's willing to help big energy corporations pump mercury into the air so that she will get sick and her unborn child will be aborted? Abortion is abortion, and it doesn't make sense for Bush to oppose it as a medical procedure when he promotes it in a form that brings big profits to corporate executives in the industry that made him rich.
The arguments that Bush, Leavitt, and other Republican Washington insiders use to justify their attempt to make Americans breathe toxic mercury fumes only reveal their flagrant disregard for the truth. Bush and Leavitt claim that there just aren't any affordable alternatives to pumping mercury into the air we breathe.
The plain fact is that this just isn't so. There are affordable alternatives to polluting the air with mercury. For example, new technologies that are tested and economically realistic can take a great deal of the mercury out of coal before it is ever burned, and also remove a great deal of the water from the coal, so that it is less expensive to ship. This process adds less than 2 percent to the energy cost of coal.
So, if affordable and clean alternatives to spewing great clouds of mercury-tainted smoke into the air exist, why won't Bush and Leavitt encourage energy companies to use them? The only explanation that makes sense is that the Bush Administration has an ideological knee-jerk reaction against putting any limits on the energy industry, from which it gets immense amounts of campaign contributions.
What Bush can't understand is that some issues simply must not be dealt with through the ruthless supply-and-demand mindset that the Washington Republican elite automatically embraces on every issue. There is no such thing as an acceptable economic cost to the poisoning of America with increased mercury emissions. Some things, like the ability to breathe air that does not have deadly levels of mercury in it, are priceless.
Bush has had three years to prove himself to be the "compassionate conservative" he promised to be. In three years, he has done more to expose America's children to deadly poisons than any politician in over a generation. Poisoning kids to satisfy campaign contributors is not compassionate, Mr. Bush. It's downright heartless.
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