NY Governor Paterson Holding up Mercury Reduction Initiative; Who Pays the Price?

Ben Somberg

May 28, 2010

The Albany Times Union had a nifty, if depressing, scoop over the weekend in "Paterson bottling up mercury ban at plant":

Efforts by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to ban mercury-tainted coal fly ash used by a Ravena cement plant have been bottled up for more than 19 months in a special regulations review office of Gov. David Paterson.

The DEC request to yank permission from Lafarge North America for ash use at its Route 9W plant has been sitting in the Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform since October 2008, according to records obtained under the state Freedom of Information Act by the Times Union.

This isn't the first time we've heard about questionable regulatory review maneuvers in the Paterson administration; last August, the governor issued an executive order seeking to "eliminate unnecessary regulatory requirements" by "removing needless and excessive rules." Here in this space, Rebecca Bratspies laid out how that move was a big win for industry, and Sidney Shapiro compared the announcement to Ronald Reagan's Task Force for Regulatory Relief.

The situation in New York sounds like something of a parallel to that with federal regulation of coal ash itself, where the EPA had a strong regulatory proposal ready in October, only to have the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs block it. In both cases, the experts, EPA and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, have had their efforts to follow the law stymied.

So who loses when the plant in Ravena is allowed to continue releasing excessive mercury? Among others, fishers and fish-eaters downwind and downstream. Yes, there are many sources of the mercury that ends up in the Hudson River and its watershed, and then in fish, and later in humans. But this is one source of that mercury that could easily be cut down.

Why has a single initiative been stuck for more than a year and a half in the Governor's office? And where is the transparency in the process?

Governor Paterson ought to be willing to go to the piers in New York City, talk to the fisherman and their families who rely on fish, and tell them why his regulatory review office has acted in a way that leads to more toxins in their food.

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