Public Health, Environmental Advocates Ask Court to Protect Life-Saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

February 13, 2017
Contact: 
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – February 10, 2017) A coalition of public health and environmental advocates is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to protect the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – a life-saving clean air measure that is already implemented and successfully protecting children across America from brain damage and adults from other serious illnesses.

The groups filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Friday night in support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Supplemental Finding that it is appropriate and necessary to regulate mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants. Among those that have challenged the supplemental finding is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt – President Trump’s nominee for EPA Administrator, whose confirmation vote in the Senate is expected soon.

“The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are built on a solid legal foundation, they are cost-effective, and they are crucially important for protecting Americans from some of the most deadly types of air pollution,” said Graham McCahan, Senior Attorney for Environmental Defense Fund which is a party to the case. “They are already in place and protecting American families. We should be focusing on further improving our air quality and the transition to a clean energy future rather than trying to roll-back these vital protections.”

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards set the first-ever national limits on hazardous air pollutants – including mercury, arsenic, chromium, and hydrochloric acid gas – from power plants, the largest source of those pollutants. Those pollutants 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.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are already in place, and 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 keeps affirming how dangerous these toxic air pollutants are to human health. However, polluters and their allies continue suing to stop them.

When EPA issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in 2011, it 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, in June 2015, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 that EPA should have also considered the costs in its initial, or threshold, decision to regulate these hazardous emissions from power plants. EPA had considered costs in establishing the resulting emissions standards.

EPA then fulfilled the Supreme Court’s directives with a final supplemental finding confirming that the cost of compliance for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards is eminently reasonable. Coal companies, coal-based power companies, and their allies have challenged that supplemental finding.

The American Lung Association, American Public Health Association, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Clean Air Council, Clean Air Task Force, Conservation Law Foundation, Downwinders at Risk, Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Natural Resources Council of Maine, Natural Resources Defense Council, Ohio Environmental Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, and Southern Environmental Law Center joined EDF on Friday’s brief in support on the Mercury and Clean Air Standards.

A group of 16 states and five cities, and major electricity providers including Calpine and Exelon are also intervening in the case in support of EPA. A group of Native American tribes and tribal associations, a group of health scientists, the American Thoracic Society and the Institute for Policy Integrity have filed amicus, or “friend of the court,” briefs in support of EPA.

You can find more about the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, including all legal briefs, on EDF’s website. 

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