EPA Mercury and Air Toxics Standard Testimony

Photo by Tusik Only

Today I testified before the EPA about their proposed rulemaking which would weaken the Mercury an Air Toxics Standard. It is important that we prevent what happened with mercury in the Shenandoah watershed from happening again.  You can read my testimony below.

Thank you for providing me this opportunity to stand in front of you today and voice my opposition to the proposed rulemaking which would weaken the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard.

For two plus years, this Administration has been promoting the benefits of the “Clean Coal” industry.  So quite honestly, I am left scratching what little hair I have left on my head wondering why the EPA would want to do anything that would undercut this Administration’s argument that coal is clean.

You really can’t have it both ways. It’s either clean due to the provisions already put in place, or it’s going to become “unclean” when you walk back these provisions.

For some, this rollback is an academic exercise more suited for a law school’s tort class where you debate compensation for harm intentionally or unintentionally caused even though by the EPA’s own estimate, the 2011 standard has reduced mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants enough to save 11,000 lives annually.

So while this may be an academic exercise for some, it is not for me.  Instead, this is a cautionary tale of what can go wrong when mercury enters your ecosystem at unsafe levels. Let me tell you about mercury in the Shenandoah watershed.

From 1929 until 1950, the DuPont company used mercury as part of their manufacturing process to make fabric like nylon and rayon.  The mercury was supposed to have been collected in a retort facility so that the mercury would stay in a closed system and not be released into the environment.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.

They stopped using mercury in 1950 and in the mid-1970s, during an expansion of the manufacturing facilities, DuPont discovered mercury in the soil, and most unfortunately, in the South River, the major tributary to the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. State officials thought the mercury levels would gradually fall – they did not.

Eventually, officials instituted a fish consumption advisory that prevented the consumption of any naturally occurring fish in the South River and only two 8oz meals per month in the Shenandoah River all the way up to Harpers Ferry, WV.  Oh, unless you’re pregnant or want to become pregnant, or you’re a child.

The advisory has been in place for 30 years, but for over 30s years, people did not know and regularly consumed fish caught in these waters.  What kind of damage did it due to the neurological development of children growing up in the Shenandoah Valley?

And it didn’t just impact the fish.  It did a number on neotropical song birds, reptiles and amphibians.

And then there is the economy.  Waynesboro, VA is ground zero of the mercury release.  It’s blessed with wonderful trout streams and fall foliage and sits on major travel arteries.

Unfortunately, it struggles, due in large part because anglers do not want to fish there because of the mercury. When given a choice where folks can spend their hard-earned discretionary dollars, they will choose a location that minimizes risk to their family.

In many respects, the DuPont Corporation has been a model corporate citizen, ultimately agreeing to a $52M Natural Resources Damage Assessment to help try to make the environment whole as a result of their actions.

Critics will argue that air deposition did not cause the majority of the mercury in the Shenandoah river system.  I argue that what you are watching in the Shenandoah Valley is like a film of our collective future being played at high-speed.  Mercury stopped being used in this one manufacturing facility, 69 years ago.  One facility – 69 years ago. It’s still with us, it’s not going away and it is still causing us problems.

I urge the EPA to do the right thing, keep your clean coal clean, don’t go against your own Administration, keep the mercury rule and enforce the regulations.  Your own analysis says it is saving lives and preventing needless pain and suffering.

Thank you.