EPA attack on mercury rule is dangerous for the South

A Trump administration plan that would open the door to more mercury emissions from power plants is unlawful and could, in a worst case, add 240 percent more of the toxic metal to the South’s environment, according to comments submitted by SELC and 44 other organizations.

The Trump EPA is seeking to reverse one of the most successful pollution-reduction programs in the nation’s history. In 2012, the EPA under the Obama administration determined that the cost to industry of cutting mercury and other dangerous air pollutants from power plant emissions was justified in light of the health benefits.

Even when industry challenged the rules in court, the Obama EPA determined “it clearly remains appropriate and necessary to regulate (hazardous air pollutant) emissions” from power plants, citing the enormous benefit to public health, according to SELC’s comments.

But under the Trump administration, EPA leaders have come to the opposite conclusion and are trying to pull the rug out from under the rule.

Technically, the Trump EPA is not directly attacking the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, a program credited with removing tons of mercury from power plant pollution. Rather, the agency is challenging the foundation of the rule, that the regulation of mercury to aid public health is “appropriate and necessary.”

“What is perplexing about this is that the power sector has already complied with the rule and has greatly reduced mercury emissions,” said SELC senior attorney Deborah Murray, who submitted the comments on behalf of the organizations. “The cost to comply was less than thought, and since the work has already been completed, the electric industry itself is not pushing for this. So why the Trump EPA wants to put more dangerous and toxic mercury into our air and water is beyond me.”

Mercury causes a host of health problems and damages the brains of young children and fetuses. The mercury in air pollution eventually settles into water where it gets into fish. That’s why in many Southern areas pregnant women are discouraged from eating fish.

The South, with a historic reliance on coal-fired power plants, has a lot to lose under this proposal.

If the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – often called MATS – went away, Alabama could see a more than 500 percent increase in mercury emissions, according to researchers. In 2018, MATS limited Alabama mercury emissions to 136 pounds, but that could jump to more than 800 pounds, according to researchers.

Similarly, other Mid-Atlantic states could see substantial jumps in mercury pollution. In Tennessee, mercury emissions could jump 322 percent, according to the researchers.

In addition to cutting mercury, MATS also succeeded in reducing other dangerous types of air pollution, amplifying the health affects of the policy, according to SELC comments.

The rule has prevented more than 2,000 premature deaths in SELC states, comprised of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.

In the conclusion to SELC’s comments, Murray wrote that the Trump EPA’s proposal “represents a profound abdication of EPA’s responsibility under the Clean Air Act to protect public health and the environment from harmful air pollution. We urge EPA to withdraw the Proposal.”

You can download SELC’s comments here.

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