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US senators move to curb mercury, sulfur in air

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 4, 2010
US senators on Thursday proposed sharp cuts in emissions of mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, saying that the nation direly needed tougher rules to improve public health.

Senators from President Barack Obama's Democratic Party and moderate Republicans joined forces in the legislation, which would update the landmark Clean Air Act of 1990.

But the proposal does not address a more contentious form of gas -- carbon dioxide, which is blamed for global warming. Legislation to curb carbon emissions has languished in the Senate for months.

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander, a main sponsor of the new bill, said that in his state of Tennessee, the health of 400,000 people was at risk because of poor air quality that harms lungs, water and crops.

"Millions of people come to the Smokies every year to see the 'blue haze' the Cherokees sang about, not the gray smog that power plant emissions help to create," he said of the celebrated mountain range.

The legislation would cut mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by at least 90 percent from recent levels no later than 2015.

It would also cut sulfur dioxide by 80 percent by 2018 and nitrogen dioxide by 53 percent by 2015.

Without specifying a funding figure, the proposal said that communities would receive support to meet the new air quality standards, creating jobs in the process as companies are obliged to build new facilities.

The legislation would also set up a nationwide trading system for sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

Senator Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware who also spearheaded the legislation, said that the bill offered a rare chance for legislators from the two parties to work together.

"Passage will not only help us clean up our nation's power sector and our nation's air, it also will provide the certainly and predictability that an important industry in America needs," Carper said.

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