Climate

On Fox News, Ed Whitfield Denies ‘Any Benefit’ To Babies And Pregnant Women From Reducing Mercury Levels

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY)

As U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administration Lisa Jackson announces the first-ever Clean Air Act rules to limit mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, Republicans are already attacking this historic advance for public health. The health risks of this potent neurotoxin are enormously well-documented. Methylmercury from coal pollution accumulates in fish, poisoning pregnant women and small children. Mercury can harm children’s developing brains, including effects on memory, attention, language, and fine motor and visual spatial skills. But Republicans are willing to argue that the profits of the coal industry outweigh the well-being of America’s children.

“There are already strict regulations relating to mercury emissions,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), the chair of the House energy and power subcommittee, falsely claimed in an interview today with Fox News. “Obviously whatever controls the EPA has in place are not working if our fish are tainted,” Fox’s Alisyn Camerota shot back. Whitfield then made the false claim that “there is not going to be any benefit from this new regulation in reducing mercury levels”:

CAMEROTA: As I’m sure you know, for the past years doctors have been advising pregnant women not to eat any fish when they are pregnant because the mercury levels are so high in fish. So what to do about this? Obviously whatever controls the EPA has in place are not working if our fish are tainted.

WHITFIELD: Well, let me just say this to you, the scientists that testified before our committee were unanimous in the view that there is not going to be any benefit from this new regulation in reducing mercury levels. All of the benefits were calculated from the reduction of particulate matter, which is already covered under ambient air quality standard regulations. This is about closing coal plants, and that’s precisely what it is about.

Watch it:

Whitfield and energy committee chair Fred Upton (R-MI) have assiduously avoided having medical experts testify about the EPA’s mercury rules, instead parading utility and coal industry officials before their committee to make exaggerated claims about the costs of upgrading power plants to protect children’s health. At one such hearing, Rep. Joe Barton denied the “medical negative” of mercury exposure.

The glimmer of fact in Whitfield’s claims is that the health costs of mercury poisoning of our nation’s children over decades of unlimited coal pollution are difficult to quantify. Mercury poisoning is rarely fatal and hard to detect, but causes undeniable, insidious developmental harm to fetuses and babies.

Cost-benefit analyses conducted by epidemiologists for the new rule emphasize the equally real live-saving impact of cutting the deadly soot pollution from the few dozen ancient coal plants that emit most of the nation’s mercury pollution. By conceding that cutting the particulate matter would save thousands of lives, Whitfield was in effect admitting that current ambient air quality standards are not sufficient to protect American health either.

Economists are beginning to recognize that the costs of coal pollution outweigh the benefits of “cheap” coal electricity. Unless the coal industry cleans up its act, coal power is making the American economy sick.

UPDATE

A presidential memorandum issued by President Obama this afternoon notes: “Analyses conducted by the EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) indicate that the MATS Rule is not anticipated to compromise electric generating resource adequacy in any region of the country.”

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