Environmentalists canvass Bethany Beach

Pedestrians in downtown Bethany Beach on July 29 may have stumbled through a handful of clipboard-wielding environmentalists en route the boardwalk. Most folks breezed by, but for anyone who later entertained second thoughts, these young Environmental Action members were trying to raise public awareness regarding a plan to reduce air pollution known as the “Clear Skies Initiative” — specifically, why they thought the Clear Skies Initiative didn’t do enough to reduce mercury emissions.

Environmental Action’s Thomas Locke recommended alternate energy sources (wind, solar) to reduce emissions from coal-fired power plants, but in the meantime pushed for “smokestack scrubber” technologies, which he said could be implemented with little burden on the power generation industry (and ultimately, consumers).

He said the Clean Air Act (passed in 1970, updated in 1977 and 1990) had given industry ample time to gear up and meet delineated air quality standards.

Their Web site, www.environmental-action.org, offers arguments to that effect, with backup from the American Lung Association (www.lungusa.org), which also favors existing regulations.

From the association’s State of the Air 2004, “The Administration has proposed an air pollution plan that would weaken the Clean Air Act and benefit big polluters.”

Mercury emissions in particular would receive a pass with the administration compromise, according to the American Lung Association. Many toxin-reducing technologies that would have been required at power plants by 2008 would be “delayed and diluted.”

While both the Clean Air Act and the Clear Skies Initiative also target greenhouse (carbon dioxide), smog-creating (sulphur dioxide) and ozone-affecting (nitrogen oxides) gasses, Environmental Action may have focused on mercury at a seaside resort because of its impact on fish.

From the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Web site (www.epa.gov/ost/fish), Delaware advisories jumped from three in 2002 to 21 in 2003.

In the Lower Delaware River and Delaware Bay:

• Striped Bass, Restricted Consumption — General Population (RGP), issued 1999.

• Bluefish, greater than 24 inches or six pounds, No Consumption — General Population (NCGP), issued 2003.

• Bluefish, less than 24 inches or six pounds, RGP, issued 2003.

• Channel or white catfish, RGP, 2003.

• American eel or white perch, RGP, 2003.

These advisories are all mercury-specific, and according to the EPA Web site, haven’t been rescinded yet. Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Web site added a warning that trimming and cooking did not reduce the risk associated with mercury.

DNREC listed a joint Delaware/New Jersey advisory dated March 2004, which referenced the same fish, adding warnings that women of child-bearing age and children should eat none of these fish out of the lower Delaware and Delaware Bay (www.dnrec.state.de.us/fw/advisory.htm).

Locke criticized U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) for supporting a compromise bill that, while more stringent than the Clear Skies Initiative, would in his opinion be less effective than solid enforcement of the existing Clean Air Act.

Carper, visiting Fenwick Island on Aug. 1, touched on that compromise bill, but most specifically as it related to carbon dioxide, not mercury.

He remembered President George W. Bush’s comments on the campaign trail (he was still a governor at that time) in Saginaw, Mich., September 2000. “He said, ‘We need to change, amend the Clean Air Act in order to reduce emissions from the heartland,’” Carper said. “Got elected, hired Christie Whitman to help him with the EPA — and then, about five or six months into his administration, he said he’d had a change of heart.”

Carper said Bush had backed away from carbon dioxide (greenhouse gas) reductions in particular. He defended the compromise bill for bringing carbon dioxide back into the equation “without vastly increasing costs to consumers.”

He segued into a comparison with the Kyoto Agreement, suggesting the implementation of regulations that called for an immediate return to 1990 emission levels akin to slamming a car into reverse while driving 60 mph down the highway.

Wanting to study health care, environmental and economic issues as they interrelated, Carper said they’d petitioned the EPA to do some additional research — “To actually model the president’s proposal with my proposal, and model the proposal from (U.S. Senator) Jim Jeffords of Vermont (I-VT), which is actually much different,” he noted. He expected results in coming months.

Locke expressed distaste for any changes to the Clean Air Act, however. None of these proposals for Clean Air Act modifications cleared Senate committee on the last go-round, but Environmental Action members advised Bethany beachgoers to watch for their resurrection on Capitol Hill in the coming year.