EPA Forces 'Sophie's Choice' Between Protecting Children & Elderly

December 4, 2003

(4 December 2003 — Washington)  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to announce three initiatives today that would lower air pollution’s impact on the elderly but leave hundreds of thousands of children exposed to toxic mercury.  Environmental Defense charges that the initiatives will force Americans into a deadly and unnecessary choice of protecting either the young or old from air pollution.  All three actions are proposals subject to public comment before taking legal effect. 

“Americans should not be forced into a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ between protecting their children or protecting their grandparents from the harmful health impacts of air pollution,” said Environmental Defense senior policy analyst Michael Shore.  “EPA must strengthen today’s proposals to protect the health of all Americans of all ages.  Anything less is unnecessary, unacceptable and unforgivable.”

“EPA’s action on mercury favors pollution over solutions and will leave thousands of children behind to suffer the deadly consequences of unnecessary mercury pollution,” said Shore.

EPA is expected to identify counties where some 170 million Americans live as out of compliance with the national ozone (smog) health standard.  These designations are required under the Clean Air Act and will be hotly debated in a number of states across the nation.

EPA’s Interstate Transport of Air Pollution rule will propose to cut sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides pollution for the eastern United States.  Curbing the interstate transport of dangerous pollution particles and ozone smog is essential to states’ ability to achieve healthful air quality.  But EPA’s proposal fails to make the level of pollution cuts needed to protect human health and needs to be strengthened.  

EPA is expected to propose mercury emission standards for coal-fired power plants nationwide that ignore achievable pollution reduction opportunities  - while reversing the finding that mercury is covered under the Clean Air Act’s toxic pollution control program.  Power plants are the nation’s largest, uncontrolled source of mercury, a known neurotoxin that impairs brain development in children. 

“EPA is on the right track in proposing to clean up pollutants that threaten the elderly, but the agency’s proposal is wrapped in toxic mercury that will leave hundreds of thousands of our children unprotected,” said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton.  “EPA’s mercury proposal is the bad apple that will spoil the rest of today’s announcements.”