The government is shut down. For over a month, hundreds of thousands of full-time and contract government workers haven’t been getting paychecks — but they are still having to pay rent, mortgage, medical, and other bills.
But despite a partial government shutdown, and during a time when so many families were on vacation, right after the Christmas holiday, Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler — who last week testified before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to potentially become the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) — announced that EPA would begin to undo the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. But undeterred by Trump’s and Wheeler’s efforts to hide this attack, moms were watching.
If you have worked alongside Moms Clean Air Force for the last eight years, you will remember the mercury battle that was raging just as we started. Coal plant owners had been fighting any kind of restrictions on their ability to release mercury, arsenic, acid gases, heavy metals — all terrible poisons — into our air. They claimed it would cost too much to scrub their stacks, and that it would make electric prices go up.
Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin. It disrupts the developing architecture of the fetal brain — and harms the brains of toddlers, and adults, as well. When a coal plant has no mercury controls, tiny particles of the heavy metal come billowing out of its smokestacks and travel into lakes and oceans, where fish can become contaminated with the dangerous toxin. People who eat that fish — and, especially, the babies of pregnant women who eat that fish — can be exposed to harmful levels of mercury.
Well, the rules finally passed — and Moms were especially proud of the role we played, with so many partners, in this win. And guess what? Utilities invested in the technology to clean their stacks, and it cost far less than they claimed. Electricity prices did not skyrocket. And the rules worked. Atlantic fish has far less mercury in it. Pacific fish, sadly, still is contaminated by the coal pollution from plants in China and India.
So what does EPA do? Well, Robert Murray, a coal baron, and advisor to President Trump, gave the administration his wish list of rollbacks. It included attacking, undermining, and weakening the lifesaving mercury rule, despite its broad health benefits. So EPA announced that it will attack the very foundation of the rule — claiming that, as a result of their latest, extremely limited accounting of the costs and benefits of the rule, it turns out that the rule is not actually “appropriate and necessary” — a legal yardstick under the Clean Air Act.
It is a sickening, immoral ploy — as is so much of what this EPA is doing to our protections against pollution. Moms simply cannot abide the claim that protecting our babies’ brains from a harmful neurotoxin is neither appropriate nor necessary.
We’ve got to roll up our sleeves and have this same fight all over again.