Members of Maine’s congressional delegation say they will continue to push for legislation to reduce mercury emissions from power plants in response to a Bush administration decision to relax restrictions.

The Environmental Protection Agency last month proposed extending the timeline to 15 years by when power plants have to install new technology aimed solely at reducing mercury pollution. The previous rules had required plants to have new technology standards in place by the end of 2007.

Maine’s delegation – two Republian senators and two Democratic representatives – has supported legislation that calls for reductions in the 48 tons in annual mercury emissions nationwide. Mercury emissions are a concern in Maine because the state is downwind from mercury-emitting coal-fired power plants in other states.

A bill in the U.S. Senate bill calls for reducing emissions to 5 tons, and the House has a similar goal in calling for a 90 percent reduction by 2009. But neither bill has moved.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said the technology now exists to sharply reduce mercury emissions. “These changes roll back critical standards for mercury and could impact the health and well-being of millions of Americans, particularly women and children,” she said.

The EPA’s announcement for relaxed standards came a week after the Food and Drug Administration was told by a scientific panel that it should provide clearer advice to pregnant women and young children on the risks from mercury in their diet.

The panel told FDA that it could do a better job of spreading word on which fish have too much mercury, particularly that white, or albacore, tuna has nearly three times as much mercury as cheaper “light” tuna.

“The Bush administration has systematically acted to evade, delay and weakly enforce the Clean Air Act’s controls on mercury,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine. “The new FDA health advisory makes clear that failure to regulate mercury emissions has made the routine pleasure of a tuna sandwich an unacceptable risk.”

Even with the relaxed mercury standards, the EPA is still “calling for the largest single industry investment in any clean air program in U.S. history,” EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt said.

AP-ES-01-05-04 0216EST

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