Washington Watch: Bringing Back Toxic Air
The Trump EPA has formally proposed to gut another one of the Obama Administration’s most impactful pollution control rules — one that has dramatically reduced the emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants which cause brain damage and other birth defects.
MATS — Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — were implemented in 2011 to reduce the dangerous levels of such pollutants from coal-fired power plants. These standards have largely been implemented, and they’ve been wildly successful.
In its explanation for the move, the Trump EPA claimed that it was only challenging the legal basis for applying the rules to coal- and oil-fired power plants. Its allegation that it is correcting a “flaw” in the economic analysis is based on a new “study” which radically undervalues the health benefits of toxic air pollution control.
Since the 2011 rule was implemented, mercury pollution from U.S. coal-fired power plants has been cut by 85 percent, with major reductions in other toxic air emissions as well.
Controlling these toxic pollutants has major health benefits. Mercury causes brain damage, learning disabilities, and birth defects, as well as other health problems. Prenatal exposure is especially dangerous. Airborne mercury emissions precipitate into water and onto crops, re-entering and becoming more concentrated through the food chain.
Health and environmental experts agree that gutting these critical environmental health protections as a sop to Trump’s coal industry backers would be nothing short of public policy insanity. Gutting this protective rule would permit the dangerous and economically pointless rollback of a major environmental advance already largely implemented.
In response, League of Conservation Voters (LCV) vice president for government affairs Sara Chieffo declared, “In 2011, the EPA finalized a long overdue and widely heralded step to protect the health of our children, pregnant mothers and other vulnerable populations from dangerous mercury pollution. These protections have been incredibly successful in reducing this potent neurotoxin. It is clear Wheeler is only listening to coal barons, not the dire warnings from his own agency that this move could cause over 11,000 premature deaths. Or even the industry who has already invested in successfully complying.”
The proposal was formally made public on December 27, the day before funding expired for EPA operations under the ongoing government shutdown. The public has 60 days from that date to comment on the proposed change, which NCLCV invites you to do.
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