General Assembly Addresses Mercury Levels

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

March 9, 2006

The amount of mercury in Virginia's water seems to be on the rise and law makers are taking action. The question is: are they doing enough?

A bill is sitting on Governor Tim Kaine's desk that would reduce mercury in the state of Virginia by limiting the amount of emissions from power plants. The concern isn't whether we should reduce emissions, but how much and how fast.

Mercury that get into our water sources can cause severe learning disabilities in children. So how much do we have in Virginia?

"Virginia scientists have begun testing broadly and they're finding mercury pollution in over 300 river miles," said Cale Jaffe of the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Those trying to amend the bill says it's necessary to control local emissions.

"Local mercury emissions create local mercury hot spots so that the mercury is falling close to the source," said Jaffe.

While others say there's only so much we can do until other countries start enforcing restrictions.

"If you eliminated all of the mercury from utility plants in the entire United States, it would only impact the mercury that goes into the streams, that then goes [into] fish, that may go into your body, by about three percent," said Steve Miller of Americans For Balanced Energy Choices.

Opponents say there will be enough research to enforce tougher laws next year, but the current bill allows several years for research.

"He amends the bill to say 'DEQ, we're ready to take this problem seriously. Get us back the study as fast as possible and the end of this calendar year so we can do something about it at the next legislative session,'" said Jaffe.

Some fear it may move too quickly

"I'm not sure that they're quite as concerned as they ought to be with the prices and the cost to Virginia's consumers and Virginia families--particularly in this time when lots and lots of families are struggling with higher energy bills," said Miller.

Governor Kaine's office said he has not had time to review this bill yet, but will look at it's environmental versus economic impact. Kaine will have the option of signing, vetoing, or amending the bill.

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