This week, Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), ranking member on the Senate Environmental Public Works (EPW) Committee, joined industry, health, faith, and environmental justice experts for a Senate briefing co-hosted by Moms Clean Air Force and Earthjustice. The topic: Why these “odd bedfellows” oppose EPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s proposal to undermine our country’s mercury pollution standards (the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or “MATS”).
Mercury is a dangerous heavy metal that can lead to brain damage. When people ingest it by eating contaminated fish, it enters the bloodstream and easily crosses the placenta in pregnant women. It can harm the developing brains of babies and children, reduce IQ, and lead to behavioral problems. The largest source of mercury pollution in the US is coal fired power plants.
Since 2012, mercury emissions from power plants have been regulated under the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS. MATS has effectively limited mercury and acid gas emissions from coal fired power plants, without raising the cost of electricity. Mercury pollution has declined by more than 80% since 2011, in large part because of MATS. And these standards have the added benefit of reducing other pollutants, aside from mercury, including particulate pollution, which is deadly. As a result, mercury standards are responsible for preventing 11,000 deaths per year as well as 130,000 asthma attacks.
In December, Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler issued a proposal to change the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The proposal takes aim at the way costs are calculated, claiming that MATS has provided only marginal health benefits, at too great a cost.
Wheeler’s proposal relies on an extremely narrow definition of what counts as benefits. This smoke-and-mirrors analysis hides significant health benefits, and the cost of compliance can therefore appear, falsely, to be unreasonably high. According to Wheeler’s proposal, regulating mercury from power plants is not “appropriate and necessary,” a legal yardstick under the Clean Air Act.
Wheeler has said that he is leaving the current standards in place, and that more mercury will not be released into the air as a result. But this is disingenuous. The proposal attacks the underlying justification for the MATS, leaving it vulnerable to legal challenge, and it must be called out for what it is: A direct threat to our children’s health.
The briefing came just one day before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted on whether to advance Andrew Wheeler’s nomination for EPA Administrator to the Senate for full consideration. (They voted along party lines, and the nomination moved from the EPW committee to the full Senate for consideration. A vote is expected to be scheduled in the coming weeks.)
- U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE), Ranking Member, Environment and Public Works Committee
- Emily Fisher, General Counsel, Edison Electric Institute
- Reverend Mitch Hescox, President/CEO, Evangelical Environmental Network
- Jacqueline Patterson, Director, Environmental and Climate Justice Program, NAACP
- Jerome A. Paulson, MD, FAAP, American Academy of Pediatrics