Mercury rule

IU’s McCabe on EPA’s move to reconsider mercury rule

Former EPA assistant administrator says decision poses critical risk to public health

BLOOMINGTON – Janet McCabe, former acting assistant administrator for air quality at the United States Environmental Protection Agency, now a key player in Indiana University's Grand Challenge initiative focused on environmental change, released the following statement today regarding the EPA's proposal to reconsider parts of the agency’s 2011 rule requiring control of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal fired power plants, known as MATS (Mercury and Air Toxic Standards):

“Reducing emissions of mercury and other harmful pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants has profound benefits to our public health. The MATS rule has been a success. The industry is fully in compliance, costs have been a fraction of what EPA predicted in 2011 and mercury emissions have decreased by over 80 percent between 2011-2017. The benefits don’t stop there because limiting mercury also reduces fine particulate matter and other emissions that pose severe risks to human health. This proposal is an outcome-driven reconsideration of the legal underpinnings of MATS. If finalized, it will leave the mercury reduction requirements vulnerable to rollback or further legal attack, and it puts at risk years of progress to reduce exposure to a known neurotoxin that accumulates in the environment.

“The proposal also sets a very troubling precedent for how the EPA evaluates the impact of policy on public health. An objective cost-benefit analysis of MATS suggests that public health benefits far outweigh the costs. But the current EPA is going against what has been the required practice for several decades, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, of considering all the public health benefits of a rule and is now being selective in deciding which public health benefits should count—and which shouldn’t—when justifying the rollback of yet another environmental standard.

“Coming in the week between two major holidays, this low-key announcement shouldn’t fool anyone—it is a big deal, with significant implications, and a prime example of how we’re witnessing the quiet dismantling of the regulatory foundation the EPA is supposed to uphold and enforce.”

While at EPA, McCabe helped write the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which were the first rule to regulate mercury, nickel, arsenic and other toxic air pollutants from power plants based on requirements in the Clean Air Act Amendments signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990. The rule also significantly reduces other harmful air pollutants from these facilities, specifically sulfur dioxide and fine particles. Key considerations regarding MATS and its impact include:

  • Mercury is a neurotoxin that can lead to serious damage to developing nervous systems. Exposure to mercury and other air toxic air pollutants pose particular risks to pregnant women, infants and young children.
  • In its current form, MATS was projected to preempt (on an annual basis) up to 11,000 premature deaths, including nearly 5,000 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks and more than 5,000 emergency room or hospital visits.
  • As a result of MATS, the total value of the air quality improvements for human health alone equals up to $90 billion annually.

At IU's Environmental Resilience Institute, McCabe is part of a team of IU Grand Challenge initiative experts working to equip local and state officials in the Midwest with the resources and expertise needed to respond and adapt to the effects of environmental change.