SELC takes on EPA mercury ruling on behalf of health organizations

SELC joined a coalition of health and environmental organizations on Friday in challenging the EPA’s efforts to undermine an environmental protection that has dramatically cut the amount of mercury and other pollutants spewed into the air by coal-burning utilities and industries.

“The safeguards that have sharply cut the amount of toxic air pollutants, including mercury and arsenic, have been a success story for health and for the environment,” said Deborah Murray, a senior SELC attorney. “It is unconscionable—and unlawful—for the EPA to undermine this achievement. And, as a result, it’s no surprise that a coal company is now directly challenging these safeguards.”

At issue are two connected safeguards, one supporting the other. Both are under attack.

The safeguards that have sharply cut the amount of toxic air pollutants, including mercury and arsenic, have been a success story for health and for the environment. It is unconscionable—and unlawful—for the EPA to undermine this achievement. And, as a result, it’s no surprise that a coal company is now directly challenging these safeguards.”

—Senior Attorney Deborah Murray

The first is an Obama-era rule called the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards that cut mercury emissions from coal-burning industries. The second is the determination that the technology used to reduce mercury in emissions had the added health benefit of also cutting other harmful air pollution -- or a “co-benefit” in regulatory parlance. The Obama EPA determined the co-benefits would make the air cleaner, make people healthier, and save lives. Those wide-ranging health benefits justified the costs for industry to add the safeguards.

As a result, mercury emissions have plummeted in many southern cities. Mercury is a toxin particularly harmful to young children. It also gets into lakes and rivers and contaminates fish.

But shortly after taking office, President Trump said his EPA would reverse the finding that co-benefits should be counted in the equation. And by removing the co-benefit underpinning, it opened the door for companies like Westmoreland Mining Holdings to attack MATS itself.

The challenges SELC filed on Friday take on the Trump EPA’s efforts to attack the co-benefit of MATS, and defend MATS from Westmoreland’s attack.

“The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a success. America’s babies are healthier, and our air is cleaner,” said Harold P. Wimmer, the National President and CEO of the American Lung Association, one of SELC’s four clients. “EPA’s rule to undermine these standards goes against scientific evidence, and devalues and endangers the health of babies, children, pregnant women, and many other vulnerable populations. Millions are breathing cleaner air because of these protections promised by the Clean Air Act. The American Lung Association is taking this legal action to safeguard the health of all Americans, especially our most vulnerable.”

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