Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Will Jewish groups tacitly accept or join opposition to EPA’s mercury coal plant rule?

Given this blog’s nom de clavier, I must weigh in on another Mercury issue. As you may know, Jewish organizations and Jewish environmentalists, prodded by COEJL, had opposed the EPA’s proposed new rule on coal-fired utility emissions of mercury. [1] Now that EPA has ruled in line with industry interests, will Jewish organizations use their limited resources to support or encourage the legal battle against EPA’s travesty of a mercury pollution rule?

On June 15th, four medical groups joined the legal challengers to the Bush Administrations new rule on coal-fired utility emissions of mercury. The four groups (Physicians for Social Responsibility, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Nurses Association and the American Public Health Association) filed a motion to take part in a lawsuit against EPA already underway by environmental groups and 13 states. James Tierney (Columbia Law School) reported on the lawsuit by state AGs (Attorneys General) with one editorial comment: “There was a time in our country's history when the Environmental Protection Agency protected the environment.

Business interests played a heavy hand in shaping the rule. The Environmental New Service reported that “the influence of the Bush administration and the industry in shaping the [mercury] regulation, has been charged with controversy. A report by the EPA Inspector General Nikki Tinsley found that senior agency officials manipulated the development of the mercury rule in order to favor the emissions trading plan. In addition, the Government Accountability Office… determined the agency’s economic analysis of the mercury rule was seriously flawed." One blogger sees Tinsley’s studyEPA “with setting unrealistically low limits on mercury pollution and then working backwards to justify its upcoming rule.” EPA officials also deliberately ignored a Harvard study t as evidence of “Government by the Corporations, for the Corporations”. Another blog notes that Tinsley charged hat, by documenting health benefits of pollution controls, would have required a stricter EPA rule. Instead, as first reported by AP wire: “Nikki Tinsley’s report said the EPA based its mercury pollution limits on an analysis submitted by Western Energy Supply and Transmission Associates, a research and advocacy group representing 17 coal-fired utilities in eight Western states.” Analysis of health was upstaged unduly by corporate interests.

Jewish leaders continually weigh 3 strategies for confronting economic interests with Jewish moral concerns. Praise, silence, critique. These strategies were exemplified in the daf yomi a few weeks ago (bShab 33). Rabbi Yehudah praises the Romans for developing markets, bathhouses and bridges. He is honored by the Romans. Rabbi Yose keeps a measured silence, perhaps because dissent was persecuted. He is exiled (well, maybe put under house arrest). But R. Shimon bar Yohai harshly criticizes the Romans and the immorality behind Roman economic developments. He is hunted as a rebel. Besides a rebel, Shimon b. Yohai is also a mercurial critic of business. (He may be a deep ecology prototype. Later in the Talmudic story, he and his son attack Jewish agricultural businesses, too.) He opposes not only business as a means, but apparently business per se as a distraction from Torah study.

In charting out next steps on the EPA’s mercury rule, Jewish organizations and activists can keep in mind that the Roman God of Commerce is Mercurius. [2] What tack is to be taken? No need for the line of Rabbi Yehudah, who is hermercurious in approvingly interpreting Rome’s works. Some, lead by COEJL, have tended to be hermercurial -- though thankfully not as excessively as R. Shimon b. Yohai – in criticizing the Bush Administration on mercury. [3] Now that EPA has adopted a harmful rule, the strategy of silence could be interpreted as tacit approval. What is to be done now?

Kaspit כספית

[1] COEJL activists wrote in a letter that “The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) current proposals on mercury fall far short of what the law requires, and they fail to protect the health of our children and our environment. We ask you to carry out the requirements of the Clean Air Act to protect our nation from toxic mercury contamination.”

[2] In Talmudic hermeneutics, Mercurius is nearly equivalent to idolatry.

[3] Hermercurial: a critique of the material and commercial world through the interpretation of significant texts, such as rabbinic texts. [a definition-in-progress]


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