This week, Moms Clean Air Force’s own Heather McTeer Toney joined other leading experts to testify in opposition to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s controversial proposal to undermine our country’s mercury pollution standards.
This oversight hearing was held in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, chaired by Representative Diana DeGette (CO-1). DeGette called the hearing in the wake of bipartisan letters from both chambers of Congress (here and here) requesting that EPA withdraw its proposed changes to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or “MATS.” Broad opposition led by moms, health care professionals, the electric utility industry, the faith community, and civil society prompted this flashpoint moment of accountability.
In December, EPA’s Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler issued a proposal to undermine the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The proposal takes aim at national standards, in place since 2012, which limit mercury and acid gas pollution from coal fired power plants. Mercury is a dangerous heavy metal that can lead to brain damage. It easily crosses the placenta and is especially harmful to babies and children. The largest source of mercury pollution in the US is coal-fired power plants. Undermining mercury standards could have devastating health consequences for families across the country, especially pregnant women and communities of color living in the shadow of coal plants.
Heather’s testimony focused on the health harms to women and children from mercury pollution, as well as the benefits Americans have enjoyed as a result of the fully implemented MATS, which is reducing harmful mercury and other life-shortening, health-harming, and carcinogenic compounds that come from coal-burning power plants. In other words, the standards are in place and working to protect babies, moms, and all Americans from harmful pollution.
Heather also spoke about the disproportionate burdens to frontline and fenceline communities from coal pollution. Undermining mercury protections could pose an unduly heavy burden for those communities, where the mercury rules have helped reduce pollution from mercury, particulates, and other harmful emissions.
As Representative Yvette Clark (NY-11) asked during the hearing, “Why would EPA try to fix something that isn’t broken?”
Other committee members were also incredulous, and kept returning to the fact that the regulated industry itself, the electric power industry, opposes this proposal. Representative Darren Soto (FL-9) pointed out that EPA Administrator Wheeler was “kowtowing to an industry that isn’t even asking to be kowtowed to!” He said, “It’s dumbfounding that we are here to talk about rolling back standards that protect our children from mercury when the industry isn’t even asking for it.”
Heather forcefully knocked down Administrator Wheeler’s claims that, despite the proposal currently making its way through the EPA rulemaking process, he is not trying to weaken protections from mercury pollution. “Moms do not take kindly to this insult to our intelligence,” she said.
“Why Administrator Wheeler would ever consider weakening a rule that protects babies’ brains is senseless.”