EDF, NAACP, AAP and Others Sue Trump EPA to Defend Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

June 19, 2020
Sharyn Stein, 202-905-5718, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – June 19, 2020) Almost two dozen health, environmental and civil rights groups – including the NAACP, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and EDF – are suing the Trump EPA for its harmful and unlawful effort to reverse its own finding that the regulation of mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants is appropriate and necessary to protect public health. That finding is the legal grounding for the life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Trump’s EPA recently reversed the finding, which rested on a large and robust scientific and technical record, to improperly conclude that regulation of mercury and other toxic emissions is not appropriate. EDF and its allies filed a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today challenging the reversal.

Many of the same groups also filed with the D.C. Circuit today to intervene in a case in which Westmoreland Mining Holdings, a coal company, is trying to use the Trump EPA’s reversal as a means to topple the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards themselves.

“The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards save 11,000 lives each year and protect babies and other vulnerable people from deadly air pollutants. The Trump EPA’s unethical and unlawful decision to weaken them endangers all Americans, especially communities of color and low-income communities. Now Westmoreland is trying to take advantage of the Trump EPA’s decision in order to get rid of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards altogether, which would be even worse. We will vigorously oppose both attacks in court,” said EDF attorney Liana James.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are the first-ever national policy to reduce certain hazardous pollutants from coal-burning power plants, including:

  • Mercury, which causes brain damage, especially in babies
  • Arsenic, which causes neurological and other harms
  • Lead, which causes neurological and other harms
  • Chromium and nickel, which cause cancer
  • Acid gases, which cause serious lung disease

Mercury discharged from coal plant smokestacks contributes to localized pollution hot spots, which can disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities. It also contaminates lakes and rivers – and, in turn, the fish we eat. Mercury contamination in fish spans lakes and rivers across all regions of the U.S. Pregnant women are routinely warned not to eat certain kinds of fish because of the high levels of mercury. Children exposed to mercury in the womb have been shown to have lower IQ’s, impaired memory and language skills, and difficulty thinking and learning later in life. Mercury can also harm the vision, motor function, and muscle coordination of adults. At high levels it can cause coma and death.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are already fully implemented and are successfully protecting Americans. The power sector has achieved an 86% reduction in mercury, an 81% reduction in other metals, and a 96% reduction in acid gases since 2010.

However, in April, the Trump EPA finalized a proposal to undermine the foundation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, in spite of almost universal opposition to the move. Power sector leaders, labor leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, Members of Congress from both parties, health experts and many others had all asked the administration to leave the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards alone. EDF and its allies are now challenging the Trump EPA’s action in court.

After the Trump EPA undermined the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Westmoreland Mining Holdings filed a lawsuit seeking to use the agency’s action to eliminate the standards.EDF is part of the coalition that filed a Motion to Intervene today asking to join that case.

“We will defend the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards from all attacks,” said James. “These are fundamental, life-saving clean air protections and all Americans are safer because of them.”

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