In the past few weeks, we've discussed mercury regulation on the state and federal levels. Now it's time to report on a significant international development. On Feb. 20, the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced a decision by more than 140 countries, including the United States, to begin negotiations of a legally binding agreement on mercury. The United States had opposed a legally binding mercury treaty during the previous administration.

The UNEP decision represents the first coordinated global effort to address mercury, and the final treaty could include a variety of binding and voluntary approaches to address and reduce mercury pollution. Although the decision did not discuss details of the future agreement, it broadly stated that the treaty address atmospheric emissions of mercury, and the U.S. delegation indicated that the treaty bring "particular attention to sectors that have the greatest global impact, such as coal-fired power plants." The decision also stated that the treaty include provisions addressing mercury in products and waste. Preliminary meetings will be held this year with negotiations set to begin in 2010 and conclude by 2013.

Return to this blog for updates on the range of efforts to address mercury pollution. We'll discuss UNEP's activities, including how certain industries will be affected. We will also be following legal developments by EPA and state agencies.