EDF Joins Broad Coalition to Support EPA’s Proposal about the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

(Washington, D.C. – April 12, 2022) Environmental Defense Fund and a broad coalition of other groups is calling on EPA to reaffirm its finding that it is appropriate and necessary to limit mercury and other toxic pollution from coal and oil-fired power plants. EPA has been accepting public comment on its proposal, which reinstates a robust legal basis for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – safeguards against extremely dangerous pollution including mercury, which causes brain damage in babies and is associated with heart disease, arsenic, and other toxic substances that cause cancer and lung disease.

Environmental Defense Fund joined Air Alliance Houston, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Clean Air Council, Clean Air Task Force, Clean Wisconsin, Conservation Law Foundation, Downwinders at Risk, Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club and Southern Environmental Law Center to submit technical comments to EPA.

EDF is also part of a broad and far-reaching coalition of more than 80 community, public health, civil rights, environmental justice, environmental, faith and professional groups to submit a letter in “strong support” of EPA’s proposal. The letter was submitted yesterday by Moms Clean Air Force.

“Coal- and oil-burning power plants are among the largest sources of hazardous air pollution, including mercury, lead, arsenic, and acid gases,” the groups say in the letter. “Emissions of these pollutants seriously harm public health and the environment … The [Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have] been enormously successful: As the Proposal notes, it has contributed to reductions in mercury emissions from power plants of more than 85 percent.”

Since 2012, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have slashed pollution and have done it at a fraction of the expected cost. Recent studies prove that reducing toxic pollution has provided greater health benefits than anticipated, for less money. The previous administration tried to weaken the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards by attacking the appropriate and necessary finding. EPA’s proposal would reverse that wholly unfounded action and restore the finding.

You can read the entire community letter below:

Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2018-0794

Comments of Community, Public Health, Civil Rights, Environmental Justice, Environmental, Faith and Professional Organizations on National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Coal- and Oil-Fired Electric Utility Steam Generating Units-Revocation of the 2020 Reconsideration, and Affirmation of the Appropriate and Necessary Supplemental Finding; Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, 87 Fed. Reg. 7624 (Feb. 9, 2022)

The undersigned organizations strongly support EPA’s Proposal to reaffirm its finding that it is appropriate and necessary to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) from coal- and oil-fired power plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act, revoking the 2020 action in which EPA rescinded this finding. EPA should finalize its Proposal and should promptly propose, in a separate rulemaking, to strengthen the emissions standards for power plants in the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, 77 Fed. Reg. 9304 (Feb. 16, 2012) (“MATS”).

Coal- and oil-burning power plants are among the largest sources of hazardous air pollution, including mercury, lead, arsenic, and acid gases. They are also significant sources of benzene, formaldehyde, dioxins, polycyclic organic matter, and many other organic hazardous air pollutants. Emissions of these pollutants seriously harm public health and the environment. As a result of widespread mercury contamination, all fifty U.S. states warn residents against consumption of locally caught fish, yet nearly seven percent of all U.S. women of childbearing age—more than four million women—are still exposed to mercury at levels harmful for fetal brain development. Neurodevelopmental harm from mercury contamination in fish outweighs the significant nutritional benefits of eating fish. Emissions of lead likewise poison the developing fetus, while arsenic and benzene cause cancer. And air toxics from power plants are a component of particulate pollution that causes heart attacks and strokes on a wide scale, killing many thousands of people each year.

Power plants contribute to the pollution burdens borne by Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color, which already face disproportionately high levels of air pollution. Furthermore, some of these communities frequently consume self-caught fish at high per capita rates, increasing their exposure to methylmercury and other toxics. The communities most at risk from power plant HAP emissions are often socioeconomically disadvantaged. HAP emissions from power plants contribute to a range of serious environmental injustices—injustices that the Clean Air Act directs EPA to remedy.T

he MATS rule established the first-ever national limits on power plant hazardous air pollution and secured dramatic reductions in emissions of many of these pollutants. The rule has been enormously successful: As the Proposal notes, it has contributed to reductions in mercury emissions from power plants of more than 85 percent. The MATS rule has reduced emissions of many other hazardous pollutants as well. However, during the Trump administration, EPA needlessly and unlawfully put these life-saving protections at risk by revoking the finding that the MATS rule is “appropriate,” while unreasonably and unlawfully declining to strengthen the standards. Among other serious errors, the 2020 rule gave almost no weight to the core statutory objective of reducing emissions of hazardous air pollutants, and declined to fully explore the health impacts of failing to regulate these pollutants. President Biden’s January 20, 2021, Executive Order 13990, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” properly required EPA to reconsider those unlawful actions.

The Proposal correctly recognizes, in reaffirming EPA’s prior findings in 2000, 2012, and 2016, that regulation of HAP emissions from power plants is appropriate and necessary. EPA proposes to find that, after “weighing the risks posed by HAP emissions from EGUs against the costs of reducing that pollution in the industry and society as a whole, it is worthwhile (i.e., ‘appropriate’) to regulate those emissions to protect all Americans, and in particular the most vulnerable populations, from the inherent risks posed by exposure to HAP emitted by coal- and oil-fired EGUs.” 87 Fed. Reg. at 7628. We strongly agree with EPA that “[t]he information and data amassed over the decades of administrative analyses and rulemaking devoted to this topic overwhelmingly support the conclusion that the advantages of regulating HAP emissions from coal- and oil-fired EGUs outweigh the costs.” Id. at 7636. As the Proposal explains, “regulation of HAP emissions from EGUs under CAA Section 112 greatly improves public health for Americans by reducing the risks of premature mortality from heart attacks, cancer, and neurodevelopmental delays in children, and by helping to restore economically vital ecosystems used for recreational and commercial purposes.” Id. at 7637.

In the Proposal, EPA properly considers information obtained since earlier findings that demonstrates that the benefits of limiting HAP emissions are even greater than previously recognized (including, for example, new studies of the substantial risks that mercury from power plants poses to cardiovascular health).  And the Proposal properly recognizes that, due in part to improved pollution-control techniques, the costs to industry of controlling these pollutants are dramatically lower than EPA estimated more than a decade ago in developing MATS.  EPA is correct to give weight to all human health and environmental advantages of reducing HAPs from power plants, regardless of whether the advantages could be quantified or monetized – it is inconsistent with the statutory text and design to ignore HAP-reduction benefits merely because they have not been monetized.  In the Proposal, EPA correctly gives weight to benefits that it had not monetized, including reductions in neurodevelopmental and cardiovascular impacts beyond those previously monetized by EPA, and reductions in adverse ecosystem effects such as mercury-related impacts on wildlife and tourism.  EPA is correct to note that among these important nonmonetized benefits of regulation are reductions in “health risks in [environmental justice] subpopulations that face disproportionally high exposure to EGU HAP.” 87 Fed. Reg. at 7644. Similarly, the Proposal is correct to recognize “the statutory intent to protect even the most exposed member of the population from the harms attendant to exposure to HAP emissions.” Id. at 7634.

In conclusion, EPA should promptly finalize its Proposal and reaffirm the appropriate and necessary finding, thereby reinforcing the legal foundation for pollution limits that are crucial to protecting public health.  In addition, we applaud EPA’s commitment in the Proposal to conduct a thorough review of the prior administration’s decision not to strengthen the standards pursuant to the Residual Risk and Technology Review. Because of the enormous harms that hazardous air pollutants from power plants continue to cause, and in light of the improvements in emissions control techniques since MATS was issued more than a decade ago, EPA should move promptly to strengthen these vital standards.

Respectfully submitted,

ACES 4 Youth

Air Alliance Houston

Accelerate Neighborhood Climate Action

Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

Businesses for a Livable Climate

Call to Action Colorado

Capital Assets Energy, LLC

Capitol Heights Presbyterian

CatholicNetwork US

Chesapeake Bay Foundation

Children’s Environmental Health Network

Clean Air Council

Climate Reality Chicago Metro Chapter

Chispa Texas

Clean Energy Alliance of Naperville

Climate + Energy Project

CO Businesses for a Livable Climate

Community for Sustainable Energy

Denver DSA

Downwinders at Risk

Earthjustice

Eco-Justice Collaborative

Ecology Center

Elders Climate Action

Environmental Community Advocates of Galena Park

Environmental Defense Fund

Environmental Integrity Project

Evergreen Action

Faith Coalition for the Common Good

Faith in Place

First Focus on Children

Greater Highland Area Concerned Citizens

Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance

GreenLatinos

Groundwork Northeast Revitalization Group

Hispanic Access Foundation

I-70 Citizens Advisory Group

Iowa Environmental Council

Illinois Environmental Council

Indivisible Ambassadors

Ingleside on the Bay Coastal Watch Association

Interfaith Power & Light

Iowa Environmental Council

Justice and Mission Team, Illinois South Conference, United Church of Christ

League of Conservation Voters

Littleton Business Alliance

March of Dimes

Mayfair Park Neighborhood Association Board

Mental Health & Inclusion Ministries

Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action

Moms Clean Air Force

Montbello Neighborhood Improvement Association

Mothers Out Front Colorado

Mothers Out Front Kansas City Chapter

National Hispanic Medical Association

National Wildlife Federation

Natural Resources Defense Council

North Range Concerned Citizens

Prof. Scott Denning from Colorado State University 

Public Citizen

Rabbi Eliot Baskin

RapidShift Network

Respiratory Health Association 

Rosanna Gabaldon, Arizona State Senator

Save EPA (former employees)

Small Business Alliance

South Bronx Unite

South Texas Human Rights Center

Southwest Organization for Sustainability

Spirit of the Sun, Inc.

Sunnyside Community Redevelopment Organization

System Change Not Climate Change

Texas Campaign for the Environment

The Green House Connection Center

Union of Concerned Scientists

Unite North Metro Denver

Wall of Women

WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Western Slope Businesses for a Livable Climate

Wildwerding Consulting

Womxn from the Mountain

Working for Racial Equity  

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