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[greenyes] Administration Volunteerism Approach Opposes EU Policy for World Wide Restrictions on Mercury

LA TIMES,1,3133429.story?coll=la-news-a_section&ctrack=1&cset=true
U.N. to Debate How Best to Curb Mercury
At a meeting in Kenya, European ministers will seek deadlines and bans on 
the global pollutant, but the U.S. opposes a binding treaty.
By Marla Cone

February 22, 2005

Environmental ministers meeting in Nairobi this week to tackle one of the 
most widespread pollutants will be asked to choose between strict curbs on 
mercury proposed by the European Union and a voluntary approach advocated by 
the United States.

The EU is calling for deadlines, bans and detailed promises, whereas the 
U.S. prefers partnerships between industries and governments with no 
specific goals or deadlines for reducing either the global supply or demand 
of mercury.


Mercury is a natural element in the Earth's crust. When industries release 
it into the air, however, it travels great distances, contaminating oceans, 
lakes and rivers. The amount of mercury found in one out of six Americans 
exceeds levels that could cause neurological and developmental damage in a 
fetus or infant, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Unlike most other pollutants, mercury is used primarily in the developing 
world, not industrialized countries.

Coal-burning power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions in the 
U.S. - and in the world. But restrictions on the power industry will be left 
to individual nations under all the plans under consideration. Mercury 
alloys used in dental fillings also would remain unaffected.

The four industries that buy and sell mercury are the focus of the U.N. 
debate: chlorine production; battery manufacturing, which occurs mostly in 
China; small-scale gold mining in Africa, Brazil and Southeast Asia; and 
mercury mines in Spain, Kyrgyzstan, Algeria and China.


In its proposal to the U.N., the EU vowed to end all exports by 2011, shut 
down its only mercury mine and close old chloralkali plants that use vats of 
mercury to produce chlorine. It wants the rest of the world to commit itself 
to doing the same.

But the Bush administration opposes a binding treaty. Instead, it has called 
for creating partnerships between industries, governments and environmental 
groups to share information about mercury-free technologies, health 
advisories on contaminated fish and the best business practices.

Claudia A. McMurray, deputy assistant secretary for the environment at the 
State Department, said partnerships are the best option because negotiating 
a treaty could drag out five to eight years. Many developing nations, she 
said, do not even understand the extent of their emissions yet or the 
possible solutions, so they are unprepared to negotiate and cannot commit 
themselves to milestones.

"A one-size-fits-all set of deadlines is not necessarily the right answer," 
McMurray said. "We see more individualized solutions."

At least 10 nations have shown interest in the partnerships, and the U.S. 
this week plans to pledge more than $1 million next year to support the 
U.N.'s mercury program.

The partnerships, McMurray said, would "make all the countries involved 
accountable. While they don't have a UNEP deadline attached to them, we 
would make a public commitment and the public could hold us to it."

Environmental groups in the U.S. and Europe accuse the administration of 
impeding any meaningful global progress and protecting U.S. industry.

"It's even worse than a weak starting point," Greer said. "It's a cover-up 
for not doing anything about the mercury problem. A partnership needs 
milestones and goals and timelines. Otherwise it will just be a meeting in 
Geneva twice a year."

Facing a divisive debate, the secretariat of UNEP has pieced together a 
directive that merges the U.S. partnerships proposal with one from 
Switzerland that would start crafting a binding treaty. Europe has proposed 
amendments that would close all mercury-using chlorine plants by 2020, 
restrict mercury batteries by 2010 and implement a strategy to reduce the 
metal's use in gold mines by 2007.

UNEP officials say developing nations are likely to side with the Bush 
administration out of fear that mercury supplies will be cut off. But they 
are eager to see whether the developed world - especially Japan, Canada and 
Australia - aligns with the U.S. or with Europe.


Europe and Asia have the most at stake economically. Europe is the world's 
largest exporter of mercury, while China and India are the biggest users.

In the U.S., the only industry with a sizable economic stake is the chlorine 
industry, which purchases about 130 tons of mercury per year. Most chlorine 
manufacturers worldwide have already switched to mercury-free technology. 
But more than 135 chloralkali plants still use vats of mercury to trigger a 
chemical reaction, including nine in the U.S.

Peter Anderson, President
4513 Vernon Blvd. Suite 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Ph: (608) 231-1100
Fax: (608) 233-0011
Cell: (608) 698-1314
eMail: anderson@no.address

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