What is mercury?
Mercury is a toxic heavy metal. It occurs naturally in coal in small quantities. When coal is burned without adequate pollution controls, mercury gets into the air. From there, it falls on waterways and enters the food chain. Certain fish can have dangerous amounts of mercury in their bodies, and when people eat the fish, we get it in our bodies too. Coal-burning power plants are the largest source of human-caused mercury emissions in the US.
Mercury is harmful to the developing brain. It can interfere with normal brain development, lowering IQ and causing learning and behavioral problems. Children are especially vulnerable to the health effects of mercury, and pregnant women can pass mercury through their placenta into the brains of their developing babies. Mercury is also linked to heart disease.
What are the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards?
Members of Moms Clean Air Force fought hard for The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, finally implemented in 2012. They give us a lifesaving, effective pollution prevention program that specifically protects pregnant women and babies from harm from the brain-damaging heavy metal mercury—along with other terrible poisons. The mercury standards have helped to dramatically lower mercury emissions from coal plants—which were the largest source of mercury pollution in the US.
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are now fully implemented and are successfully reducing American families’ exposure to mercury and other poisonous substances. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards help ensure 90% of the mercury from coal burned in power plants does not get released into our air.
EPA estimates that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards save up to 11,000 lives each year, prevent thousands of heart attacks each year, prevent thousands of asthma attacks each year, and prevent thousands of hospital and emergency room visits each year.
The economic benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are as high as $90 billion each year, outweighing the costs of fixing the problem by up to a margin of 9 to 1. Furthermore, utilities found it was far less expensive than they predicted to install made-in-America “scrubber” technology to keep the mercury out of air. The most polluting coal plants, too old and dilapidated to invest in, were shut down—and this is a win against climate change pollution too.
While the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have been successful, there are still many coal plants that release significant amounts of mercury pollution and put American families at risk. Below, see the top mercury emitting coal plants in the United States. The overwhelming majority of the worst polluting lignite coal plants are in Texas and North Dakota.
Biden’s EPA has committed to fix the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that were weakened by the Trump administration.
President Trump and his EPA worked to undermine, weaken, and ultimately unravel these lifesaving standards. In 2020, EPA finalized a change to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that changed the legal justification for the rule, putting the standards at risk.
On January 31, 2022, President Biden’s EPA Administrator Michael Regan, proposed that the EPA reinstate the legal foundation of the standards that limit mercury and other toxic, carcinogenic pollution from coal-fired power plants. This will shore up standards that have helped slash mercury pollution by more than 80%, and shift the power sector towards cleaner energy.
Moms have a long history of fighting to keep mercury out of our babies’ brains.
Moms Clean Air Force fought to get the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards established and implemented—and we are fighting now to fix the dangerous weakening of the standards, finalized in 2020. We helped thousands of moms submit comments to the public docket on the dangerous proposal undermining the MATS; we brought dozens of moms to DC to testify in person at the one public hearing on the MATS proposal in March, 2019; we convened experts to discuss the impacts of the proposal with the media; we hosted a congressional briefing about the rollback with Senator Tom Carper (DE); we testified before congress about the importance of keeping our mercury standards strong; we worked with Congresswoman and pediatrician Kim Schrier (WA-08) and other members of Congress on a bipartisan amendment that would have blocked the EPA from finalizing its rule; and we have conducted dozens of meetings with lawmakers to educate them on the health and economic impacts of weakening the mercury standards in their states, as well as the benefits that their states have gained from the MATS.