IF THERE was any doubt that a majority of the U.S. Congress is in the pocket of this nation's electric utility polluters it was erased by the Senate vote the other day to preserve the Bush Administration's grossly inadequate rules on mercury emissions.
By a 51-47 vote, the Senate rejected a resolution that would have repealed mercury regulations adopted in March by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Since it is unlikely the House would ever take up similar legislation, let alone pass it, the Senate action was mostly symbolic. But mercury pollution - some 48 tons a year of the toxic substance, spewing from 1,100 or so coal-burning power plants around the country - is a documented health danger to Americans.
Mercury is a deadly neurotoxin known to cause brain damage in developing fetuses. Pregnant women ingest it by eating fish caught in lakes and rivers near coal-fired power plants, like Detroit Edison's facility at Monroe on Lake Erie.
The EPA's response, rammed through by the White House appointees who run it, has been to give the utilities many years - to 2018 and beyond - to reduce mercury emissions to 15 tons.
Moreover, the plan includes a so-called "cap and trade" system that allows the operators of particularly dirty plants to buy their way out of trouble, while increasing the likelihood of dangerous mercury "hot spots" around such plants.
The administration could have continued to enforce the federal Clean Air Act, which would have reduced mercury emissions more in less than half the time, but it chose to side with the polluters, which include many of their major campaign contributors.
In scuttling tighter regulations, the administration, in the words of the National Environmental Trust, "ignored its own scientists, two government reports, and hundreds of thousands of public comments, to say nothing of the one in six women of childbearing age whose blood mercury levels are unsafe for developing children."
Admirably, Michigan's senators, Democrats Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, were among 37 Democrats, nine Republicans, and one independent who voted against the weaker rules.
Ohio's Republican senators, George Voinovich and Michael DeWine, were among the 45 Republicans and six Democrats who sided with the administration.
Mr. Voinovich and Mr. DeWine undoubtedly would argue that they're against mercury pollution but they, like many in Congress, talk one way and vote just the opposite.
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