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The Sierra Club

Times Staff Writer

The Sierra Club, a national environmental group, this week launched 30-second television commercials critical of the Bush administration on mercury pollution. One is running in Detroit, the other in Tampa, Fla. -- key markets in the battleground states of Michigan and Florida. The ads are localized for each market. The Tampa version, described and analyzed here, is titled “Cecilia.”

Script: Narrator: “Paul Bryant moved to Florida so his daughter could take care of him.”

Cecilia Height: “In order to help his heart he ate a lot more fish, sometimes four times a week.”

Narrator: “But doctors suspect that mercury in the fish damaged Bryant’s nervous system ... and is making others sick too.”

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Dr. Carol Roberts: “I do see the results of this toxic pollution in my practice every day.”

Narrator: “But instead of cleaning up the mercury, the Bush administration wants to let polluters delay cleanup by a decade. There is a better way. Use existing technology, enforce the current law and protect us from mercury pollution.”

Images: Cecilia Height, a nurse in Winter Park, Fla., is shown in a photograph with her father, Paul Bryant. Then she is shown alone -- talking in an interview, walking through the woods and holding another photo of her father that suggests he has died. Then comes a shot of Dr. Carol Roberts, an expert on patients with nerve ailments, followed by a picture of a power plant belching fumes from three smokestacks. The closing shot is of a pristine wooded area and wetlands.

Analysis: This ad, timed to coincide with the observance of Earth Day today, is intended to drive home Sierra Club criticisms that the Bush administration has failed to take adequate steps to rein in mercury emissions. Many experts believe these emissions pass from smokestacks into the ecosystem and accumulate to hazardous levels in certain kinds of fish and shellfish. The ad also is part of an effort to steer the presidential campaign toward environmental issues that Democrats believe play to the strength of their presumptive nominee, Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts.

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The ad features real people, but information that is omitted could cause some to claim it is misleading. Paul Bryant died recently of a disease not linked to mercury, according to the Sierra Club, but the group says that his health suffered as a result of severe nerve damage attributed to mercury exposure.

The Bush administration this year has acknowledged rising concerns about mercury pollution by issuing an advisory on fish and shellfish consumption by pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children. But critics say Bush has not done enough to tackle mercury contamination at a key source: coal-fired power plants. The administration has proposed a rule requiring the plants to cut mercury emissions 70% by 2018. Many Republicans say this proposal will set a tough and effective new standard for pollution control. Democrats counter that it is far weaker than a Clinton-era plan to cut mercury emissions 90% by 2008.

Graphics reporting by Times staff writer Nick Anderson

Los Angeles Times

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