EPA Reaffirms Enormous Health Benefits from Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

EPA Finds that Reducing Hazardous Air Pollution is Appropriate in Light of Costs

November 20, 2015
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – November 20, 2015) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today issued a supplemental finding that reaffirms the enormous health benefits of reducing mercury and other toxic air pollution.

The step was taken in response to a Supreme Court decision about the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. In June, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled that 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. In today’s supplemental finding, EPA considered whether the cost of compliance is reasonable when weighed in light of the serious public health and environmental hazards of the extensive air toxics discharged by power plants – the nation’s single largest source of mercury, arsenic and acid gases. 

“This is very welcome news for all who care about clean air for our communities and families,” said Graham McCahan, Senior Attorney for Environmental Defense Fund. “The huge health and economic benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have been known for a long time. The scientific basis for reducing this dangerous air pollution is as strong and compelling as ever, and we also now know that the costs of compliance have plummeted from original estimates. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a good investment, as well as a critical public health necessity.”

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. 

The pollutants covered by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are dangerous to human health even in small doses—mercury causes brain damage in infants and children, metal toxics like chromium and nickel cause cancer, and acid gases cause respiratory problems. When fully implemented, the Mercury Standards will prevent up to 11,000 deaths and tens of thousands of other serious health problems each year.

In 2011, in the rulemaking to establish the emission limits on power plants, EPA found that the public health benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were up to $90 billion annually, and far exceeded compliance costs. However, the Supreme Court found that EPA should have also considered the costs in its initial, or threshold, decision to regulate these hazardous pollutants. The Court did not overturn the standards, but it remanded them to a lower court. 

Since 2011, major power companies have dramatically reduced their estimates of the costs to comply with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, while the body of scientific evidence supporting them has grown.

EPA is providing an opportunity for public comment period on its supplemental findings that will span 45 days from publication in the Federal Register. 

You can find more about the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards 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.