By: Dominique Browning, Co-Founder and Director, Moms Clean Air Force
Date: February 24, 2022
About: Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants: Proposed Reaffirmation of the Appropriate and Necessary Finding, Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OAR–2018–0794
To: Environmental Protection Agency
Good Evening. My name is Dominique Browning.
I direct Moms Clean Air Force, an organization of over 1.3 million members. We are united in the fight to clean up our air—on behalf of our children’s health.
I’m testifying on behalf of our members. But I am also grandmother to a five year old. So—in my heart of hearts—I’m testifying on behalf of this beloved child, and on behalf of the millions of children of a new generation who will inherit the world we are creating now.
I launched Moms Clean Air Force in 2010. The effort to develop and finalize standards that would limit mercury and air toxics from coal plants was the first fight we joined.
When I was pregnant, way back in the 1980s, I was told by my doctors not to eat tuna and other fatty fish: it contained “too much mercury.” No one explained how that mercury got into our fish.
And I didn’t ask. I had plenty on my mind—worrying about getting through pregnancy and a safe delivery.
Over the next 40 years, doctors continued to give pregnant women the same advice. And most of us took it at face value.
This ignorance, by the way, wasn’t confined to pregnant women and their obstetricians. After I started Moms Clean Air Force, I had a meeting with an internationally famous food reporter who worked at the New York Times. He was flabbergasted to learn that the mercury in our fish came from air pollution—from emissions from coal-fired power plants—he too had always assumed it occurred naturally in “old fish”!
I’ve learned a lot from my work advocating for strong EPA protections.
I’ve learned from health scientists that NO amount of exposure to mercury should be considered safe.
I’ve learned that mercury is fat-loving, so to speak—that it migrates into and bioaccumulates in fatty tissue. Once humans eat mercury-contaminated fish, it is in our bodies.
But probably the most disturbing thing I’ve learned is that mercury gets into the developing brains of our babies while they are in utero.
The fattiest tissue in a fetus is in the brain. It makes me shudder, always, to visualize mercury depositing in those tiny, growing brains—disrupting and destroying their developing architecture. That disruption can cause long-term losses in intelligence, impaired motor function, learning impairments, and behavioral problems.
The mercury standards also limit the release of other toxic air pollutants from power plants.
These include nasty stuff like arsenic, lead, dioxin, acid gases, as well as cancer-causing nickel, chromium, and selenium. All are linked to respiratory illnesses, premature death, different types of cancer, and other dangers. Those mean high health care costs too.
A shameful aspect of the previous administrations attempts to cripple the legal underpinning of MATS is that the standards put in place in 2011—and which many coal plant operators had already prepared for by applying filters to their stacks—those standards were working. Mercury emissions were dropping significantly. But now, mercury pollution is on the rise. Lignite coal plants in Texas and North Dakota are currently among the worst offenders.
It is inconceivable to me that anyone would think it is medically, economically, or morally defensible to release mercury into our air.
We don’t need to choose between having abundant, reliable energy and clean, healthy air. We can have both.
I’ve also learned, over the last decade, how critically important EPA is. It is the job of EPA to protect us; we rely on you.
Clearly, we think it is completely appropriate and indeed absolutely necessary to reinstate the legal justification, the appropriate and necessary finding, underpinning EPA’s ability to regulate mercury and other air toxics. We also urge you to swiftly move to strengthen the standards.
It is a privilege to be here before you. Today, you have heard all you need to hear in order to take swift and serious action. I am glad to be testifying before an EPA led by an administrator who puts people first. Thank you for your tireless work—on behalf of millions of grandmothers, children, and grandchildren.