By: Michelle Uberuaga, Montana field coordinator, 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
Thank you so much for your time today. My name is Michelle Uberuaga, my pronouns are she/her, and I am a mother of three and a member of Moms Clean Air Force. I live on the unceded lands of the Apsooloke and Shoshone people in the town called Livingston, Montana.
First and foremost, I support this administration’s proposal to reinstate the appropriate and necessary finding of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.
Livingston is a community of about 7,000 people in the Yellowstone River valley just north of Yellowstone National Park. The nearest coal-fired power plant, Coalstrip, lies to the east of Livingston and sits on the northern border of the Crow Nation and the Northern Cheyenne Nation.
I am testifying today because I am concerned about the impacts of mercury pollution in Montana, on sovereign nations, and across the country. Mercury disproportionately impacts our most vulnerable community members, pregnant women, and children. There is no safe level of mercury consumption.
We are counting on you. It is the EPA’s job to protect communities from industrial pollution, like mercury. Especially when the negative health impacts of mercury contamination are so clear.
I am urging the EPA to take swift action to help protect the health and safety of my children and future generations by working to reduce mercury pollution.
My family, like many Montana families, loves to fish and hunt. My 10-year-old shot his first mule deer buck this year, and we have a freezer full of meat. We don’t buy a lot of meat at the store, but we definitely benefit from the abundance of wild fish and game in Montana. Kids in our community start fishing out of the rivers and ponds at a very young age. It’s the Montana way. And nothing is better than the reward of fresh fish grilled in butter.
Unfortunately, like many streams across the nation, streams in Montana have fish consumption advisories due to high mercury concentrations. As do many lakes and reservoirs. It’s not always safe to eat the fish you catch, but many Montanans have no other choice or simply don’t understand the risks. It’s pretty easy to forget that industrial pollutants travel in our air and water when you are fishing in a blue-ribbon stream in the wilderness of Montana.
My kids, and my nephews, and all of their friends, really love to fish. And they really love to eat the fish they catch. But there are many places that we don’t allow them to eat the fish. The Yellowstone River literally runs right through our town. Our schools sit about a football field away. Kids learn about tying flies and fishing in our school curriculum, through the Watershed Warriors program and more. Fishing is a way of life.
To protect our families, Montanans must refer to the Fish Wildlife and Parks sport fish consumption guidelines to ensure that they don’t consume high levels of mercury. I’m not sure how many Montanans fully understand the risk of mercury pollution on their children, including long-term losses in IQ scores, impaired motor function, learning impairments, and behavioral problems in their children.
The other thing about mercury is that it bioaccumulates in a body over time. I had three children in my 30s, and I have been limiting my fish consumption for most of my adult life in order to reduce potential impacts to my babies in utero. I would do anything to protect them.
My youngest, Mario, is just 18 months old. Among the many things he needs everyday, like all children, he needs clean air and water, healthy food, and a safe future.
We have very little power to protect our communities from mercury at the local level. All we can do is get educated and work to avoid it when possible. That’s why your job is so important to set the rules that power plant operators have to follow.
Unfortunately, the communities living adjacent to coal-fired power plants are oftentimes poor communities and communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by industrial pollution.
Again, this is why the EPA exists—to set the rules to safeguard and protect everyone equally from pollution. And to protect the thousands of vulnerable children who are exposed to dangerous levels of air pollution every day.
I respectfully request that EPA move forward with your plan to reinstate the appropriate and necessary finding of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.
This is a simple step, and we can and must continue to do more to protect vulnerable communities from air pollution and mercury pollution. I want my kids to know that we did everything we could to protect their future.
Thank you again for your time and your consideration.