The Senate is set to vote today on a proposal that would kill America's first rule governing mercury emissions, imposing tighter controls on coal-fired power plants and other industrial sources. Ohio and other Great Lakes states, in particular, need the rule to stay intact.
Mercury, a potent toxin, attacks the brain and central nervous system. It is especially harmful to young mothers and children. As it falls from the sky and settles on large bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes, mercury converts to a pollutant many times more harmful than what comes out of smokestacks.
Ohio generates more mercury than any other Great Lakes state, and is among the nation's leaders, because of its reliance on coal. The pollutant collects in the tissue of Great Lakes fish and is passed on to humans who eat them. It is even more acute in fresh water than in oceans.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency mercury rule, announced last December, is supported by scientists, environmental and public-health activists, and child advocacy groups. Business lobbies oppose it. Congress can reverse the regulation before it becomes law. Opponents can take the rule to court.
The EPA says the rule will provide $90 billion worth of public-health and economic benefits a year -- as much as $9 for every dollar spent to reduce pollution from power plants. It predicts the rule will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms each year.
Scrapping the rule would poorly serve the Great Lakes and people who eat fish from them, as well as efforts to diversify this region's economy with tourism and recreation, notably fishing and boating.
Excessive mercury is so prevalent it has led to fish-consumption advisories in some of the Great Lakes region's most remote areas, such as Michigan's Isle Royale. A reversal of the rule would be a huge setback for western Lake Erie, the region's center of fishing.
Tougher mercury controls also would encourage utilities to shift to alternative-energy markets, which can create jobs in northwest Ohio. The impact of such controls would not be as catastrophic for traditional industries as lobbyists assert.
DTE Energy has made more than $1 billion in improvements over the past decade to its coal-fired power plant in Monroe, Mich., one of the nation's largest. That work has created hundreds of jobs and provided years of stability to one of Michigan's largest employers.
The Natural Resources Defense Council argues that a rollback of the mercury regulation "would penalize [industries that] have modernized while rewarding the laggards." For that reason and many others, the Senate should vote today to affirm the EPA regulation.