03/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

US Reverses Policy, Signs International Mercury Pact

In the wake of several scary mercury stories -- reminders that the toxic metal is all around us like the revelation that it's in high fructose corn syrup -- the United Nations has negotiated a legally-binding pact to cut toxic mercury emissions. The agreement includes 140 nations including, perhaps surprisingly, the United States.

The Washington Post reports that the US decision to join the pact marked yet another major policy shift from the Bush administration:

The agreement, announced at a high-level United Nations meeting of environmental ministers in Nairobi yesterday came after Obama administration officials reversed U.S. policy and embraced the idea of joining in a binding pact. Once the administration said it was reversing the course set by President George W. Bush, China, India and other nations also agreed to endorse the goal of a mandatory treaty.

The Bush administration had said it preferred to push for voluntary reductions in mercury emissions because the process of negotiating a treaty would be long and cumbersome.

In what could be a sign of things to come at the Copenhagen climate meeting later this year, the New York Times reports that the US policy shift changed the tone of the conference, putting pressure on other large polluters:

Susan Keane, a policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that Washington's about-face changed the dynamics of the conference, helping bring around other resistant states, notably China, whose mercury emissions dwarf those of any other country.

The US about-face on international mercury regulation follows a recent shift in domestic mercury regulation.