The Bush Administration is asking a federal appeals court to uphold a former Clinton Administration policy to regulate mercury pollution from coal-burning power plants.
EPA asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., in a motion filed Monday, to dismiss a suit challenging the agency''s decision in December to begin ordering reductions in the estimated 40 tons of mercury emitted annually from power plant smokestacks.
The court action represents a second instance in which the new Republican administration has sided with its Democratic predecessor and environmentalists against industry.
The Bush Administration and EPA have recently abandoned many former plans for stricter environmental protection initiated in the Clinton era.
Last month, Bush got the support of industry groups when he backed off a campaign pledge to limit the amounts of carbon dioxide put out by power plants.
Bush''s reversal on carbon dioxide had many wondering if the White House would favor the Clinton plans on mercury emissions.
The Clinton EPA announced the plan to crack down on power plant mercury, but did not say how much utilities would have to reduce emissions.
The motion by the White House says the suit by the Edison Electric Institute -- a trade association of investor-owned utilities -- and another industry group is premature since the agency hasn''t taken final action yet.
"The preliminary decision to list a hazardous air pollutant or a category of sources emitting such pollutants is unambiguously defined not to be a final agency action subject to judicial review," said the motion.
Many of Bush''s environmental policy decisions generated a recent surge of criticisms by environmentalists, but one green group said they saw hope in the EPA request.
"EPA''s action is welcome news that the agency is willing to stand up to the power plant industry to protect people and wildlife from power plant pollution," said Felice Stadler, national policy director of the National Wildlife Federation''s (NWF) Clean the Rain Campaign. "We are seeing the first indication that EPA may not cave in to the power plant industry on mercury, as they did on global climate change."
NWF and a coalition of environmental organizations also filed a motion to dismiss the electric utility industry''s lawsuit against EPA.
The green groups reported that power plants in the United States emit 100,000 pounds of mercury into the air each year.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention last month released a study indicating that 1 in 10 women of childbearing years had levels of mercury in their bodies that exceed EPA safe level, creating a risk of neurological problems for their newborns.
by Virginia Sutcliffe