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A Perfect Storm: Mercury and the Bush Administration

April 2004

Citation: 34 ELR 10297

Issue: 4

Author: Lisa Heinzerling and Rena Steinzor

Unprecedented Events

In October 1991, four separate weather systems gathered off the coast of New England: Hurricane Grace from the Atlantic, a cold front from New England, a high pressure system over southeastern Canada, and a low pressure system in the Maritimes. When they converged, they created a storm as strong as any in recorded history, with winds of 120 miles per hour and waves the height of 10-story buildings. The interaction of the weather systems was so rare and its effects so cataclysmic, meteorologists dubbed the results "the perfect storm." No one caught in the middle of such a phenomenon could survive.

For an Administration hostile to environmental protection, suspicious of regulation in virtually any form, and devoted to the short-term interests of the energy and chemical industries, the circumstances surrounding its decisions in December 2003 to forego meaningful controls on mercury air emissions from power plants and mercury cell chlor-alkali facilities amounted to the regulatory equivalent of the perfect storm.

Lisa Heinzerling is a professor at the Georgetown Law Center. She is the author, with economist Frank Ackerman, of Priceless: On Knowing the Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing (The New Press, forthcoming 2004). She thanks Trevor Wiessmann for excellent research assistance. Rena I. Steinzor is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. She is working on a longer analysis of the policies that underlie failures to control toxics, including mercury, that harm children. She thanks Raymond Schlee for excellent research support. Heinzerling and Steinzor are both board members of the Center for Progressive Regulation, http://www.progressiveregulation.org. Comments regarding this Article should be directed to heinzerl@law.georgetown.edu or rstein@law.umaryland.edu.

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