A brief NBC News report on the Environmental Protection Agency's new power plant regulations offered only the administration's spin on the rules but failed to mention that they are among the most controversial and widely criticized environmental regulations that the Bush administration has issued.
Substitute news anchor Natalie Morales reported the story on the March 15 edition of NBC's Today:
MORALES: Today, the EPA is set to issue new regulations for power plants. The Bush administration says the new rules may raise electricity rates, but should cut mercury pollution in half by the year 2020.
But despite the administration's claims, environmental groups, local and state air pollution regulators, and even current and former EPA employees have criticized the new regulations. According to a March 15 Los Angeles Times article, critics of the rules "have said far steeper reductions are possible and criticized the EPA for delaying reductions for decades at the behest of a politically powerful industry." The article added that some EPA employees said the new rules "failed to live up to administration promises to consider alternatives that would result in more rapid reduction of mercury emissions."
The Boston Globe also noted that the rules have been criticized for allowing "hot spots," or high regional levels of mercury pollution. The EPA plans to employ a "cap-and-trade" scheme for mercury similar those that have been implemented to regulate other pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide. But unlike those pollutants, mercury is too heavy to disperse into the atmosphere, and high concentrations can endanger humans in the particular areas where they build up.
Cap-and-trade programs enable companies affected by a regulation to buy and sell "pollution credits," allowing some companies to pollute more than others, so long as the overall levels of the pollutant decline to specified limits. Natasha Hunter explained in the August 26, 2002, edition of The American Prospect why such a system is problematic for mercury:
Mercury is a well-known neurotoxin. The acid-rain program [the cap-and-trade program used to regulate sulfur dioxide], in contrast, dealt with a pollutant that isn't particularly harmful in the short term or in the immediate area where it's released. So regulators didn't need to worry about a utility loading up on emissions credits and creating a dangerous concentration, or "hot spot." An elevated mercury output, however, could pose an immediate threat, not just to fish and plant life (as is the case with acid rain) but to humans, especially children.
Today was the only network morning show to report on the rule change.