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  • kyoto_treaty04 kyoto_treaty04 Apr 29, 2005 2:01 AM Flag

    White House Minimized the Risks of Merc


    WASHINGTON, April 5 -- While working with Environmental Protection Agency officials to write regulations for coal-fired power plants over several recent months, White House staff members played down the toxic effects of mercury, hundreds of pages of documents and e-mail messages show. Advertisement

    The staff members deleted or modified information on mercury that employees of the environmental agency say was drawn largely from a 2000 report by the National Academy of Sciences that Congress had commissioned to settle the scientific debate about the risks of mercury.

    In interviews, 6 of 10 members of the academy's panel on mercury said the changes did not introduce inaccuracies. They said that many of the revisions sharpened the scientific points being made and that justification could be made for or against other changes. Most changes were made by the White House's Office of Management and Budget, which employs economists and scientists to review regulations.

    But scientists on the academy panel and others outside it as well as environmentalists and politicians expressed concern in recent interviews that a host of subtle changes by White House staff members resulted in proposed rules that played down the health risks associated with mercury from coal-fired power plants. The proposal largely tracks suggestions from the energy industry.

    While the panel members said the changes did not introduce outright errors, they said they were concerned because the White House almost uniformly minimized the health risks in instances where there could be disagreement.

    "What they are saying is not scientifically invalid on its face," said Alan Stern, a New Jersey toxicologist who served on the panel. "Partially they edited for clarity and relevance from a scientific standpoint. But there appears to be an emphasis on wordsmithing that is not necessarily dictated by the science."

    Last Thursday attorneys general from 10 states and 45 senators asked the E.P.A. to scrap the proposed rules, saying they were not strict enough.

    They also asked Michael O. Leavitt, the agency's administrator, to extend the comment period for the rules, which now ends April 30. Under a court-ordered agreement, the rules are to be in final form by Dec. 15.

    In some cases, White House staff members suggested phrasing that minimized the links between power plants and elevated levels of mercury in fish, the primary source from which Americans accumulate mercury in their bodies, in a form known as methylmercury.

    The academy has found that exposure to elevated levels of mercury can damage the brains of children and fetuses.

    In another instance, a draft passage originally read, "Recent published studies have shown an association between methylmercury exposure and an increased risk of heart attacks and coronary disease in adult men."

    It was changed to "it has been hypothesized that there is an association between methylmercury exposure and an increased risk of coronary disease; however this warrants further study as the new studies currently available present conflicting results."

    The change understates known science, some academy panel members said in interviews.

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    • All sentient beings will suffer for the greed and arrogance of a few. We are at a pivotal point at so many junctures. Some we'll get a second chance at - some not. You would think that the survival and well being of our planet and all beings that make there dwelling place here would be primary - without it... were screwed. We will not have enough time to turn back some of the forces we've set in motion which are minute by minute wreaking havoc on our beautiful planet. The time is now... and look at the leadership we have chosen ?

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