WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Susan Collins, R-Me., and Ranking Member Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., Tuesday called for reconsideration of an Environmental Protection Agency rule governing the level of mercury that coal-fired power plants are allowed to release into the atmosphere.

The two Senators met with Acting EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson Tuesday morning to express their concerns about the lax controls required under the rule, the failure of the EPA to adequately consider available technology in establishing the standard, and the flaws of the rule making process, itself. The EPA Inspector General has already issued a report citing problems with the rule-making process.

Following the meeting, Collins and Lieberman said Johnson promised to provide them with additional information regarding questions raised by the Inspector General’s report. They also recommended reconsideration of the rule, which was issued on March 15, 2005, but has not yet been published in the Federal Register.

“Cost-effective technology exists for more stringent controls, which are particularly needed in the Northeast,” the Senators said. “The Administrator must take a new look at what is possible to protect the health of pregnant women and children.”

The EPA rule sets an initial cap on mercury emissions at 38 tons, a level that does not need to be reached until 2010, and one that could be reached by emitters without installing any mercury pollution-control equipment. A second phase cap of 15 tons is set for 2018, representing a decrease of only 70% from current emissions levels.

Recent reviews of the rulemaking process by the EPA Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office concluded that EPA did not conduct appropriate cost-benefit analyses of its proposed rule, and appeared to choose its reduction target based on the levels the President proposed in his Clear Skies Initiative, not based on the technology review required by the Clean Air Act.

“EPA tells us that we need to move slowly because specific technology to control mercury emissions isn’t ready,” Collins and Lieberman said. “But this flies in the face of reality – states like Connecticut have implemented tough state-wide standards calling for deep cuts in mercury emissions – and businesses are bidding on contracts to provide the systems to meet these standards. If we can reduce emissions by 85-90% in New England right now, there is no reason why should we have to wait until 2018 to achieve much weaker reductions nationwide.”

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, and an estimated 600,000-plus American children are born each year with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. Lieberman, a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, recently joined several Senate colleagues in protesting the weak mercury rule. Connecticut has issued fish consumption mercury advisories for every single body of water in the state.