More U.S. senators are lining up against a controversial Environmental Protection Agency rule that allows utilities and other industries to emit tons of hazardous mercury into the air Americans breathe.

Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, announced Monday that she and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, are refiling legislation to dramatically reduce mercury pollution.

Mercury has been proven to pose serious health risks to pregnant women and their babies, and can cause irreversible nerve damage and learning disabilities in young children.

The EPA in mid-March put into effect a rule that environmentalists have assailed as weakening the nation’s Clean Air Act. They claim the agency kowtowed to industry lobbyists.

The General Accounting Office and the EPA’s own inspector general also have found evidence showing that the EPA ignored studies it had ordered regarding the benefits of reduced mercury pollution.

Last week, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, called on the agency’s acting administrator to meet with her to discuss what she viewed as the EPA’s shortcomings and failure to protect the environment.

Snowe and Leahy also have joined Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords, an independent, is seeking other ways to curb the element’s pollution.

“Mercury is among the least-controlled and most dangerous toxins threatening pregnant women and children from mercury exposure through the air and water in America today,” Snowe said in announcing her effort.

“Because mercury pollution knows no state borders, a national initiative is necessary to control it and better understand its health effects,” she continued.

Snowe said she recently co-hosted a Senate briefing on the latest comprehensive scientific findings on mercury pollution and its effects on wildlife in the Northeast. At that event, the Biodiversity Research Institute of Maine unveiled new data from thousands of locations showing that mercury loading is higher than previously reported and identified nine biological mercury hot spots in the Northeast.

The Natural Resource Council of Maine, the national Clean Air Task Force and the National Wildlife Federation last week asked Collins, as chairwoman of the Senate’s Homeland Defense and Government Affairs Committee, to initiate hearings in what the Natural Resource Council of Maine’s Brownie Carson has called EPA “wrongdoing” on the mercury issue.


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