The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that it is not “appropriate and necessary” to regulate emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.
In 2012, the EPA enacted the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which, as the EPA states on its own website, protects “our children and communities by limiting emissions of mercury and other air toxics from power plants.”
In December 2018, EPA head Andrew Wheeler issued a proposed revised Supplemental Cost Finding for the MATS and required risk and technology review under the Clean Air Act.
Despite opposition from unions, business groups, and even utilities, and despite proven scientific links between pollution and coronavirus death rates, the EPA announced (just before the daily White House coronavirus briefing) an overhaul of how the government calculates the health benefits of cleaner air by rolling back the legal basis for MATS, arguing in part that the benefits don’t justify the costs. But the Trump administration only considers direct benefits, not the millions of dollars spent on healthcare or lives lost. Even the EPA’s own Science Advisory Board found in January that this analysis is deeply flawed.
Janet McCabe, who was former acting assistant administrator at the EPA Office of Air and Radiation from 2009-2017 and is now a professor at the Indiana University (IU) McKinney School of Law and director of the IU Environmental Resilience Institute, said: "This is a sad day for public health protection in the United States and sets a very troubling precedent for how the EPA evaluates the impact of policy on public health. Though the administration claims otherwise, this ruling puts at risk years of progress to reduce the public’s exposure to toxic pollutants like mercury that accumulate in the environment.
The MATS rule has been an overwhelming success, with mercury emissions from US coal plants decreasing 85% between 2006-2016 and mercury levels in water and fish also decreasing during this time period.
The power industry itself asked the administration to leave MATS alone because companies have already complied, but the EPA has decided to move forward anyway. This reflects the administration’s view of all rules intended to protect public access to clean air and water as barriers to business interests. It’s another favor to the coal industry."
Additional coverage from Babygaga.