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Administrator Johnson, National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program Announcement, Chicago, IL

08/11/2006
    Good morning and thank you all for being here.

    I would first like to thank our host for today’s announcement, John Catalano and Bionic Auto Parts. I would love to know the history behind that name – it sounds like a place the Six Million Dollar Man would go to buy quality recycled parts for his car. Although Steve Austin probably never shopped here, this is a great facility, and the kind of small business – a third generation family-owned business – that really makes up the “bionic” strength of America’s growing economy.

    I would also like to thank the previous speakers, and the organizations they represent, for joining us here today. As I was reviewed the history of this program this morning, I realized it is exactly two years to the day that we all sat down together for the first time to discuss addressing the challenges of mercury switches. Yes, August 11, 2004 was the start of quite a journey – it hasn’t always been easy, but it certainly has been interesting.

    All of us here today are dedicated to providing our families with a safer, healthier environment and an economically vibrant future. While we sometimes differ on the means to get there, through today’s action, we have moved from opposite sides of the table to sit down together as environmental problem solvers.

    You see, under the leadership of President Bush, EPA is delivering environmental results through cooperation, not confrontation. And by working together, all of us here have shown that we can create a winning strategy for dramatically reducing one of the nation’s leading causes of mercury air emissions.

    As others have mentioned, this program is called the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program … I know, it’s quite a mouthful … but by complementing a number of state programs, it will significantly improve the health of our environment and the health of people throughout America and beyond.

    The program also offers a window into the future of environmental protection. In the past, EPA worked alone, mandating rules and regulations. Today, we know the “command-and-control” approach only gets us so far. As we confront the challenges of the 21st Century, we recognize that we need additional tools in our environmental toolbox to deliver environmental results more efficiently and effectively.

    This landmark program shows how we’ve combined a set of diverse tools – from product stewardship and supply chain management, to economic incentives and accountability – to meet our common goal of reducing the amount of mercury released into our environment. At EPA, we look forward to continuing our work with these partners as mercury switch recovery gets underway.

    But what is it we are talking about?

    Well, in my hand is a mercury switch that’s been recovered from one of the cars here at Bionic Auto Parts. By removing this switch before it enters the recycling system, we are preventing the release of mercury from a steel furnace at the end of the recycling process.

    Contained inside the switch is a small amount of mercury, comparable to an eraser at the end of a pencil. So why is the Bush Administration and all of us here today, putting so much time and effort into removing such a small amount of mercury? Well, because when you add this eraser-sized drop of mercury to those from the cars here behind me … and then add that to the small amount in about 67 million switches currently in older cars … pretty soon it adds up to a lot of mercury. If each mercury drop was a pencil eraser, you would have enough to supply one eraser to every school kid in America … and we’d still have 14 million left over.

    The good news is, President Bush and our partners are taking a big step to help erase this source of mercury pollution. Because we sat down together as environmental problem-solvers, we will help prevent around 75 tons of mercury air emissions over the next 15 years. That’s a lot of mercury … and by removing it we will reap a lot of environmental and human health benefits for generations of Americans.

    This program builds on EPA’s 15 years of success in reducing the amount of mercury released from large sources like industrial boilers, chlor-alkali facilities, and municipal, medical and hazardous waste combustors. It also builds on President Bush’s unprecedented commitment to reducing mercury emissions from our nation’s coal-fired powerplants. Through EPA’s Clean Air Mercury Rule, we are cutting the amount of mercury released into the air by 33 tons over the next 12 years – making the U.S. the first county in the world to regulate mercury emissions from utilities.

    Today builds on the President’s commitment to the health of our nation, and I have the honor of removing the very first switch under the agreement we signed earlier this morning to officially establish the National Vehicle Mercury Switch Recovery Program.

    The last time I tinkered with a car was back in college on my 1969 Pontiac Firebird, so I’m going to ask John Catalano to join me to make sure I’m removing the switch properly.

    Now that may be just one drop in a bucket, but make no mistake – it’s a big step toward erasing the environmental impacts of mercury air emissions in America.

    Thank you.