Obscure agency blocks Pa. mercury pollution rule
The agency, which is responsible for publishing a record of administrative actions, has sided with Senate opponents of Gov. Ed Rendell's proposed rule cracking down on mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants and refused to publish the rule's text in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, according to the Centre Daily Times. An administrative rule must be published there in order to take effect.
Senators, who voted 40-10 last June to adopt the federal government's less-strict mercury rule, have insisted that the chamber's official period to review the proposed mercury rule, and possibly object to it, is continuing.John Hanger, president of public-interest law firm PennFuture, issued a press release calling on the General Assembly's leadership to direct LRB to publish the regulation:
However, the Rendell administration has maintained that the legislative review period expired Nov. 30, the constitutional end of the prior two-year General Assembly term, and that the Legislative Reference Bureau has no business objecting to the rule.
"We believe the regulations should be posted and that the Legislative Reference Bureau has overstepped ... the scope of its authority by not posting them," Rendell press secretary Kate Philips said Monday.
"This action is simply pathetic," said Hanger. "The mercury regulation is vitally necessary to protect women and developing fetuses from exposure to high levels of toxic mercury contamination, a powerful neurotoxin which can interfere with the proper development of babies' brains. This rule has undergone a two-year public participation process with an unprecedented outpouring of support from nearly 11,000 citizens from across the Commonwealth, and has been approved by the Environmental Quality Board, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the Pennsylvania Attorney General. Yet now, an unelected bureaucrat, with no legal authority to do so, has decided to usurp the legal process and prevent this regulation from becoming law.Rendell's rule would require the state's coal-fired plants to cut mercury pollution by 90 percent by 2015. If the rule takes effect, Pennsylvania would become the nation's largest coal-mining and coal-burning state to approve a regulation tougher than federal requirements.
"It is ironic, to say the least, that while the LRB calls itself 'a strictly nonpartisan agency of the Pennsylvania General Assembly,' it is apparently carrying the water for a distinct minority of elected officials who have tried and failed repeatedly to stop this regulation," continued Hanger. "The rule was passed legally and finally despite the protestations of some very powerful elected officials. The LRB has no legal authority to stop this regulation, and must be ordered to do its job and publish the rule.
"This last minute backroom ploy is just the kind of behavior the voters clearly abhor," continued Hanger. "We call on the new leadership in both houses to put a stop to this high-handed action, and protect Pennsylvania's children by ordering the LRB to cease and desist in its attempt to thwart the democratic process."
The Hometown area suffers from high levels of mercury pollution emitted from the anthracite region's many dirty waste-coal-fired power plants. In fact, Schuylkill County has more such plants than any other county in the nation, according to the Philadelphia-based Energy Justice Network.