Branstad, Miller on opposite sides in EPA lawsuit

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad has joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rule that would gradually reduce mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants. Meanwhile, a group of state attorneys general including Tom Miller of Iowa have asked a U.S. Court of Appeals to uphold the EPA rule.

Bleeding Heartland covered the EPA's rule on mercury and other toxic emissions here. This policy is one of the Obama administration's major environmental achievements. Some Iowa power plants are large emitters of mercury and other heavy metals.

Yesterday the Midwest Energy News blog published Lawrence Hurley's report on the legal challenge to the EPA rule. I recommend clicking through to read the whole piece. Excerpts:

In the litigation before the D.C. Circuit - involving various challenges that have been consolidated as White Stallion Energy Center v. EPA - both Branstad and Miller are joining dozens of other states, businesses and trade groups that are either challenging or defending the rule. The litigation is still at an early stage, with no oral argument scheduled yet.

Miller joined a coalition of other state attorneys general. In a court filing authored by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (D), the attorneys general say they have good reason to intervene "because the pollutants at issue degrade their parks and surface waters and injure the health of their residents."

Branstad, meanwhile, has joined a group of states asking the court whether the rule is "unlawful because EPA failed to adequately consider the impact on the reliability of the electricity supply."

In court documents, Miller is described as representing "the state of Iowa," while Branstad is listed as "governor of the state of Iowa, on behalf of the people of Iowa." [...]

In a statement, Miller's spokesman said the attorney general, "under our state law, represents the state of Iowa in legal matters such as this."

Branstad's spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.

Branstad and Miller are also on opposite sides in the legal challenge to the 2010 federal health insurance reform law. Soon after his inauguration in January 2011, Branstad joined the state of Florida's challenge to that law, while Miller and several other attorneys general urged federal courts to uphold health care reform. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on that case later this month.

It's no secret that Branstad doesn't hold Miller's work in high regard. During the 2010 campaign, he enthusiastically supported Republican attorney general candidate Brenna Findley. Branstad explained that he'd never had an attorney general "on my side, on my team" during his previous 16 years as governor. In particular, he was annoyed that Miller refused to defend his line-item vetoes. After the election, he appointed Findley to be his legal counsel.

Iowa's governor and attorney general do see eye to eye occasionally. Earlier this year, they both joined a brief objecting to California's Low Carbon-Fuel Standard. That California law threatened powerful corporate interests in Iowa, including corn and soybean growers and ethanol producers.

The EPA emissions rule for power plants also threatens corporate interests, but could directly improve Iowans' health. I wish Branstad would make the connection between reducing air and water pollution and his stated goal of making Iowa the "healthiest state" within five years. Air emissions from coal-fired power plants are a leading source of mercury emissions, and "Exposure to mercury is associated with serious adverse health and developmental effects, especially in pregnant women, developing fetuses, and young children."

From a Sierra Club fact sheet on Mercury in Iowa's Lakes and Streams (pdf):

Mercury in the form of methylmercury is extremely toxic, causing neurological and developmental problems and in extreme cases, death. Children, developing fetuses and pregnant women are especially at-risk from fish contaminated with methylmercury, a growing problem in Iowa.

Where does this mercury come from and what is being done to protect Iowans?

• Coal-burning power plants remain an uncontrolled source of air-borne mercury, which washes out in precipitation and ends up in our lakes and streams. Once in the water, it is easily converted into methylmercury, an organic more toxic form of mercury that accumulates up the food chain, collecting in the muscle tissue of fish and anything that eats them.

• Most states have comprehensive efforts to test locally caught fish for methylmercury contamination and warn the public about the dangers of eating mercury-contaminated fish.

• In Iowa, very little has been done to find out if there is a problem. In 2009 (the last year data are available), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) tested only 36 fish samples from 18 locations across the state for mercury contamination.

Mercury does not affect everyone equally

Children are highly susceptible to harm from mercury because their bodies are developing at such a rapid rate. The most recent estimates by the EPA indicate that one in six U.S. women of child-bearing age has mercury levels in her blood high enough to put her baby at risk.1 That means as many as 630,000 infants are born in the U.S. every year with unsafe mercury levels, double what the EPA previously estimated.2 These children face the risk of damage to their nervous system, which can result in delayed onset of walking and talking, cerebral palsy and mental retardation.3

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

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