After listening to a description of the health risks of mercury to pregnant women and their children by environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr., president of the Waterkeeper Alliance and vice president of Riverkeeper, FOX News Channel host Sean Hannity dismissed the subject as "silly" despite governmental evidence of the prevalence and seriousness of the problem.
From the August 3 edition of FOX News Channel's Hannity & Colmes:
KENNEDY: It's coming from the power plants. We know a lot about mercury. One out of every six American women now has so much mercury in her womb that her children are at risk for a grim inventory of diseases, including autism, blindness, mental retardation, permanent cognitive impairment.
I have so much mercury in my body -- I recently had it tested -- that Dr. David Carpenter, who is the national authority on mercury, told me that if a woman of child-bearing years had the same levels that I did, that she her -- that she would have a child that would have permanent cognitive impairment.
KENNEDY: Now listen, the Clinton administration, recognizing this problem, classified mercury as a hazardous pollutant under the Clean Air Act, which required those utilities to remove the mercury, 90 percent of it, within three and a half years. They can do it. It will cost less than 1 percent of the revenues of the plant.
PAT HALPIN [Filling-in for co-host Alan Colmes]: Now, Sean, you ought to be concerned about that.
HANNITY: This is silly.
Kennedy's assertion that the high levels of mercury are "coming from the power plants" is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which notes that "coal-fired electric power plants are the largest source of human-caused mercury air emissions in the U.S. Power plants account for about 40% of total U.S. manmade mercury emissions." (According to the Center for Responsive Politics, President George W. Bush is the top recipient in 2004 of both coal and electric industry contributions.)
The EPA has supported Kennedy's claim that "one out of every six American women" are "at risk," and reported that "approximately 600,000 infants are born each year with blood mercury levels higher than 5.8 parts per billion, the EPA level of concern." The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry provides more information on the specific health risks for children posed by mercury: "[M]ercury's harmful effects that may be passed from the mother to the fetus include brain damage, mental retardation, incoordination, blindness, seizures, and inability to speak. Children poisoned by mercury may develop problems of their nervous and digestive systems, and kidney damage."
As Kennedy stated, and as the Associated Press noted on December 13, 2003, the Clinton administration "had listed mercury as a 'hazardous air pollutant.' The Bush administration would undo that by placing mercury ... under a less stringent category of the Clean Air Act, so it can be regulated using a program allowing companies to buy pollution credits from other plants." As The Washington Post noted on December 30, 2003, critics argue that this system allows "the White House and its allies in the utility industry" to subvert environmental standards in order to "allow power plants to continue polluting for another decade."
Later in the program, Kennedy mentioned the influence of "Latham & Watkins" in establishing the new regulations. As the Post reported on January 31, in the new rules constructed by the Bush administration to combat mercury emissions, "at least a dozen paragraphs were lifted, sometimes verbatim" from the suggestions of Latham & Watkins LLP, a law firm representing the energy industry.