WASHINGTON – The Senate narrowly turned back a challenge to the Bush administration’s strategy on mercury pollution Tuesday, leaving intact federal rules that give power plants flexibility in how they reduce emissions of the dangerous toxin.
With a 51-47 vote, the Senate defeated a resolution to void Environmental Protection Agency rules finalized last March. The Democrats and nine Republicans who supported the repeal contended the EPA approach was too slow and too weak in dealing with a pollutant that can cause serious neurological damage to children.
The White House insisted its market-based approach to curtailing mercury pollution is effective and founded on sound science.
The debate highlighted two very different approaches to environmental protection. The administration rules, backed by the utility industry, would set a nationwide cap on mercury emissions and put a ceiling on allowable pollution for each state. But individual plants, through a cap-and-trade system, can avoid cleanups by buying pollution credits from plants that are under allowable levels.
But opponents say the rules are too weak and would prolong a health risk that leaves newborns vulnerable to birth defects and mental retardation.
By repealing the EPA rules, the Senate would compel the agency to rewrite the rules. The revisions would be in line with Clean Air Act standards requiring the use of the best available technology to reduce mercury emissions.
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