WASHINGTON -- Nine states, including Massachusetts, filed suit against the federal government yesterday challenging new rules that they say do not protect children and expectant mothers from dangers posed by mercury emissions from power plants.
The suit, filed in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, criticizes rules announced March 15 by the Environmental Protection Agency as failing to do all the Clean Air Act requires.
New Jersey is leading the coalition of states, which also includes Vermont, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, and California.
''Our ultimate goal is to persuade the court to invalidate the EPA's rules dealing with mercury emissions," New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey said. ''Our goal is to reduce mercury emissions that we know are harmful to pregnant women and children."
The EPA-ordered reductions would cut mercury emissions from the nation's 600 coal-burning power plants by nearly half within 15 years, from 48 tons of mercury pollution a year down to 24.3 tons in 2020. Opponents say that so-called cap-and-trade rules provide an out for the worst polluters by allowing them to trade ''pollution credits" with cleaner plants.
''EPA's emissions trading plan will allow some power plants to actually increase mercury emissions, creating hot spots of mercury deposition and threatening communities," Harvey said. ''It's an antihuman health position. The EPA is putting private profit ahead of public health, and it's a mistake."
New Hampshire Attorney General Kelly Ayotte said states cannot wait for stricter national controls. ''EPA has ignored sound science, the Clean Air Act, and New Hampshire's recommendations on setting strict federal controls for mercury," Ayotte said.
Cynthia Bergman, a spokeswoman for the EPA, said that the government has taken steps to control emissions from other sources and that the rules represent a new set of controls on ''our last significant source of mercury."
She urged pregnant women and women of child-bearing age to adhere to dietary guidelines issued by the federal government and limit their consumption of certain types of fish.
Mercury from smokestacks can wind up in waterways and ultimately be consumed by humans who eat tainted fish. The toxic metal causes nerve damage, which can be harmful to children and fetuses even at low levels of exposure.
The cap-and-trade rule sets a nationwide cap on allowable pollution, then allocates an amount to each state, which then sets limits on each plant. Plants that exceed the limit can buy pollution credits from plants emitting less mercury pollution than they are allowed. Cap-and-trade starts in 2010. Until then, utilities do not have to do anything specifically to control mercury.