D.C. Circuit Court Hears Arguments about Life-Saving Mercury Standards

EDF, Others Urge Judges to Leave the Standards in Place; Argue Against Request to Delay Public Health Safeguards

December 4, 2015
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – December 4, 2015) Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) joined a broad coalition of 15 states, several cities, the American Academy  of  Pediatrics and other major public health and medical professionals’ associations, the NAACP, environmental groups and power companies at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today to argue in support of the life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, public health protections that are currently in effect for millions of Americans. 

Certain opponents of the historic standards are asking the court to vacate the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fulfills a Supreme Court directive to reassess costs in its initial, or threshold, decision to regulate the hazardous air pollutants from power plant smokestacks. Power plants are our nation’s single largest source of toxic contaminants such as mercury, arsenic and acid gases.

EDF and other coalition members argued that blocking the standards while EPA responds to the Supreme Court’s decision would be unnecessary and dangerous. 

“Right now, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are in effect – saving lives and protecting Americans from some of the most dangerous types of air pollution. Vacating the standards would jeopardize those protections and put American families at risk of serious, sometimes deadly, health problems,” said Graham McCahan, Senior Attorney for Environmental Defense Fund. “EPA has already released supplemental findings to address this summer’s Supreme Court ruling, and it has committed to reach a final decision promptly.  Our nation’s leading health and medical experts have urged the Court not to delay or undermine these vital public health protections.”  

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards set the first-ever national limits on hazardous air pollutants from power plants, including mercury, arsenic, chromium, and hydrochloric acid gas. These pollutants are dangerous to human health even in small doses – mercury causes brain damage in children, metal toxics like chromium and nickel cause cancer, and acid gases cause respiratory problems. 

In June, a sharply divided Supreme Court remanded the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to the D.C. Circuit Court. The Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must consider the costs of regulation in making its threshold determination whether it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollution from power plants.

EPA had found that the public health benefits of the standards were valued at up to $90 billion annually, but that finding was made later in the process of creating the standards. EPA had also found that the value of the benefits far exceeded the compliance costs – and since then, power companies have been able to comply with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards at less than one-quarter of EPA’s original cost estimates, further weakening arguments that it’s now necessary to vacate the standards. 

Two weeks ago, EPA issued a supplemental finding reaffirming the enormous health benefits of reducing mercury and other toxic air pollution. However, opponents are still asking the D.C. Circuit Court to vacate the standards while EPA finishes the process of responding to the Supreme Court – a process which EPA has said would be done by April of 2016.

You can find more about the history of the case and all the legal briefs on EDF’s website.

# # #

Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading international nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on EDF Voices, Twitter and Facebook.