Earlier this year, the Obama administration pushed to limit the amount of mercury emissions from power plants. Yet this month, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives resisted any tightening of EPA rules. They passed the first of a series of bills designed to prevent the EPA from restricting toxic pollution under the Clean Air Act. The "Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation" — or the TRAIN — Act passed the House on a mostly party line vote of 233 to 180. It would hinder the EPA's ability to move forward on the new rule requiring power plants to slash 90% of their mercury emissions. Although required by the Clean Air Act, the rule has been delayed for 20 years. It was finally going to be implemented in November. Although the TRAIN Act passed the House, it is virtually guaranteed to go nowhere in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats. Nonetheless, members of the House who supported the Act took the opportunity to criticize the Obama administration's rule tightening as a "job killer." Congressman Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, for instance, charged that millions of Americans had stopped looking for work because the EPA is "creating obstacles to job creation in America and also to stimulating the economy." Congressman Henry Waxman of California responded that if the TRAIN Act is enacted, "more babies will be born with birth defects and learning disabilities." While the TRAIN Act might never reach President Obama's desk, there is the possibility that pieces of it could emerge in an omnibus spending bill or a short-term spending bill in December. Midwestern Democrats already nervous about new EPA rules might decide to join Republicans in passing the measures, or risk not passing much-needed funding. One of the elements of the TRAIN Act would be to require a comprehensive study to be conducted before the new rule was enacted, causing a delay that might appeal to Democrats in coal mining districts. However, as a recent poll showed, voters in those districts are strongly opposed to mountaintop mining and mercury pollution. The TRAIN Act illustrates the challenges of curbing pollution that causes birth defects and other health problems. Yet it is clear that mercury emissions are linked to birth defects. Women with high levels of mercury in their system have given birth to babies with brain damage, learning disabilities, hearing impairment, and even Minamata disease. In the future, the stricter EPA rule may be in place; for now, if you believe that your child's birth defect may be due to in utero exposure to high levels of mercury, you might consider filing a toxic tort lawsuit against the offending power plant. In a toxic tort lawsuit, you could argue that the power plant had a duty to operate safely, but breached that duty with careless behavior, resulting in damage to your child. If enough people are similarly situated — that is, live in the same location and have given birth to babies with similar birth defects — you may be able to form a class action lawsuit against the power plant.
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