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Missouri FORUM | 09/15/2018
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Mercury, smallmouth bass and the Supreme Court

By John Hickey

This past Labor Day weekend, I was with my son, wading in the upper Huzzah Creek in the Missouri Ozarks. My son was fishing for smallmouth bass, and the fish were really biting. He was pulling one smallie after another out of the deeper holes, and then releasing the fish to catch another day. My son practices catch and release, which helps protect local fish populations. But there is another reason that he was wise to return the fish: mercury contamination.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has issued an advisory that sensitive populations should eat no more than one meal per month of smallmouth bass that are longer than 12 inches due to mercury in the fish. Sensitive populations include women of childbearing age, nursing mothers and children under age thirteen. My family includes someone from a sensitive population, so we have to severely limit our consumption of these wild-caught fish. This advisory not only covers smallmouth bass, but also largemouth bass, spotted bass, walleye, plus channel, bullhead, and blue catfish.

How would a wilderness creek like the Upper Huzzah become contaminated by mercury, you may be wondering. The answer: emissions from coalfired power plants. Mercury from the smokestacks drifts far from the plant, and is deposited widely across our state. Mercury then bioaccumulates, as smaller animals ingest the mercury, and are in turn eaten by larger animals. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for 95% of the mercury contamination in Missouri waterways.

Why is mercury such a problem? According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), mercury is a powerful neurotoxin that can cause muscle weakness, as well as impairment of speech, hearing and walking, and loss of peripheral vision. Children exposed to mercury while in the womb experience even more severe impacts, including impaired cognitive thinking, memory, attention, language, fine motor skills, and visual spatial skills. Since we know the source of mercury pollution, as well as its impacts on human health, why hasnt the EPA taken action to protect the public? The good news is that the EPA did just that in 2011. These rules to limit mercury pollution from power plants would save thousands of lives. The bad news is that the Trump Administration has just announced its intention to reconsider this rule.

Trump cant get away with that, can he? Wont the EPA and the federal courts step in to protect these commonsense rules to protect the public health? Unfortunately, the coal industry is putting its shills into high positions in the federal government. One example was Scott Pruitt, who recently resigned in disgrace from his position as EPA Administrator. But Big Coal has another friend that is being considered for an even more influential position. That man is Brett Kavanaugh, who has been nominated for a life-time position on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Kavanaugh has a track record of agreeing with the coal industry on whether power plants need to reduce mercury emissions. In the White Stallion versus EPA case in 2014, Brett Kavanaugh argued against the new EPA emissions standards for mercury on the false premise that the EPA completely ignored costs. Kavanaugh is willing to let thousands of us get sick and even die from mercury poisoning, to save his wealthy coal industry buddies from paying to clean up mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. I want my children to inherit a Missouri in which the creeks and rivers are not contaminated with mercury. I want my children to inherit a Missouri where they have the thrill of catching and eating smallmouth bass, without having to worry about mercury poisoning. I want my children to inherit a Missouri where they do not have to worry about having their own children impacted by mercury poisoning while in the womb. And I believe that the vast majority of Missouri parents agree with me on all those points.

So lets work to build the future that we want for our state! As a first step, lets demand that Missouris U.S. Senators, Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt, stand up for our public health by voting against Brett Kavanaughs nomination to the Supreme Court. Our Senators should demand that the President nominate a judge who is in the mainstream, and who is not beholden to the big polluters. Lets do it for the mothers and the children who are most impacted by mercury pollution. Please act today.

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