Panel Approves A Second Murkowski Bill Dealing With A Ban On Mercury Exports

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee today approved legislation sponsored by U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, that would increase and extend funding for critical water and sewer projects in rural communities throughout Alaska.

The committee also approved a second bill, sponsored by Murkowski and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), involving a ban on the export of mercury.


Each year the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transfers money to Alaska’s Village Safe Water Program, which is managed by the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. Murkowski’s bill reauthorizes EPA funding for the program through Fiscal Year 2010 and increases the funding level to $42 million from $40 million.


“There remain far too many rural communities throughout our state that lack safe and sanitary water and sewer systems, which is clearly having a detrimental effect on the health of residents of these communities,” Murkowski said. “Today’s action by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is a big step forward, and I am hopeful that Congress can act quickly on this legislation. The health and well being of rural Alaska is at stake.”


According to the Centers for Disease Control, infants in villages with less than 10 percent of homes with water service are 11 times more likely to be hospitalized for pneumonia and five times more likely to be hospitalized for lower respiratory tract infections.


      The second Murkowski bill approved today by the environment and public works panel is aimed at protecting the safety of Alaska’s seafood by banning the export of elemental mercury, a neurotoxic that can harm fetuses and young children. Obama was the lead sponsor and Murkowski was the chief co-sponsor of the legislation.


        The bill, which is designed to reduce the uncontrolled use of mercury in developing nations, follows the lead of the European Union and would prohibit the export of mercury from the United States starting in 2010. The bill also would establish an advisory committee to study whether the United States should establish a mercury storage reserve to relieve firms holding stockpiles of mercury of the expense and liability of storage of the metal in the future.


        The bill would prohibit the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy from selling their huge stockpiles of mercury to keep from adding to the mercury glut on national and world markets. The bill, which won the support of the American Mining Association, the American Chemistry Council and The Chlorine Institute, does not stop the proper use of mercury.


        “Given our expanding knowledge about the health impacts of elemental mercury when it enters the atmosphere, this is a common-sense approach to slow needless mercury emissions, especially in the developing world,” Murkowski said.


        “Coming from a state that is a major seafood producer, it only makes sense to take reasonable steps now to safeguard the environment from the unnecessary release of mercury that can affect fish and potentially those who eat fish. We’ve never had a problem with mercury contamination in Alaska’s seafood and this ban on mercury exports can help maintain our excellent safety record.”