Saturday, February 21, 2009

U.S. Agrees to Treaty Reducing Mercury Emissions

If you don't believe your vote counts check this out.

More than 140 countries have agreed to negotiate a legally binding treaty that would slash the use of metal mercury. Its intent is to reduce people's exposure to a toxin that negatively affects brain development in infants and young children everywhere.

The agreement was announced at a meeting of United Nations Environmental Ministers in Nairobi yesterday and happened after the Obama administration reversed the Bush administration's position on the issue. China, India and other nations immediately agreed to endorse the goal of a mandatory treaty.

And what was the Bush administration's objection to such a treaty? According to the Washington Post, "The Bush administration had said it preferred to push for voluntary reductions in mercury emissions because the process of negotiating a treaty would be long and cumbersome."

For years environmentalists have been lobbying for just such a treaty and all it took was electing a president who believes that protecting our children is worth a "...long and cumbersome..." negotiation.

"Only a few weeks ago, nations remained divided on how to deal with this major public health threat which touches everyone in every country of the world.
said Achim Stiner, executive director of the U.N. Environmental Program. "Today, the world's environment ministers, armed with the full facts and full choices, decided the time for talking was over -- the time for action on this pollution is now," Stiner continued.

In an interview earlier this month, Steiner said the agreement "will be a major, confidence-building boost for not only the chemicals and health agenda but right across the environmental challenges of our time, from biodiversity loss to climate change."

Formal negotiations will begin late this year and should be completed by early 2013. The White House issued a statement saying a future treaty would use "a combination of legally binding and voluntary commitments" to cut mercury emissions from industrial processes as well as coal-fired power plants and small-scale mining.

"The United States will play a leading role in working with other nations to craft a global, legally binding agreement that will prevent the spread of mercury into the environment and improve the health of workers, pregnant women and children throughout the world," said Nancy Sutley, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in the statement.

"While the majority of mercury exposure in the United States stems from non-domestic emissions, all 50 states have issued mercury contamination advisories for fish in their waters. Marine mammals eaten by native Arctic peoples, such as pilot and beluga whales, have mercury concentrations that exceed recommended levels," says a Washington Post story.

The story continues: "Environmentalist Susan Egan Keane, a policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council who attended the Nairobi session, called the agreement "an amazing and astonishing turn of events."

"For six or seven years, the Bush administration had absolutely blocked any attempt to create a legally binding instrument," Keane said. "The Obama administration, within three or four weeks of inauguration, was able to put that into reverse."

So, there you have it. What the Bush administration refused to do the hard work to accomplish, the Obama administration has taken on within its first month in office. Sort of brings to mind George W. Bush's repeated admonishions that being president is ,"Hard work."

An aside of pride: Nancy Sutley is from Los Angeles and happens to be a lesbian; just one of the many gay and lesbian appointees in the new administration.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous1:58 PM

    In the 1970's, Japan's work-at-home system produced a major runoff of Mercury which contaminated the fish in their bay. People ate the fish and suffered blindness among other problems including death.