House Republicans Announce Attacks on Life-Saving Mercury and Air Toxic Standards

And so it begins.

Long a rumored dirty secret, Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY) confirmed today that House Republicans plan to introduce legislation to delay mercury and air toxics standards that will save up to 26,000 lives every year.

The chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy and Power subcommittee told PoliticoPro [subscription required] today that such a bill would be introduced after the two-week congressional recess.

Rep. Whitfield admitted bluntly, “[t]he objective is to delay the implementation of these regulations.”

The EPA regulations he means would reduce mercury and other toxic air pollutants from power plants, cement plants, and industrial boilers and process heaters. Rep. Whitfield has convened a hearing in his subcommittee tomorrow to examine (i.e., attack) these health standards. Testifying at the hearing will be the Southern Company, DTE Energy and the Portland Cement Association. Representatives for all have submitted written testimony condemning the clean air standards.

I also will be testifying at that hearing, along with a representative for the Clean Energy Group, representing supportive utility companies that are willing and able to comply with the mercury and air toxics standards for power plants.

I excerpt my summary statement for the Subcommittee below, and link to my full testimony here [pdf]. I will write another post about the hearing afterwards.

Power plants, industrial boilers and process heaters, and cement plants are the largest emitters of mercury and scores of other toxic air pollutants that still are failing to comply with basic Clean Air Act requirements for toxic pollution over two decades after the adoption of the 1990 amendments to this landmark statute. This situation is due to unlawful delays and standards by the prior administration that have resulted in the obligation by the present EPA to re-propose and re-issue lawful air toxics standards to protect the public.

EPA’s final and proposed mercury and air toxics standards for these three industrial sectors will deliver enormous public health benefits. Were these standards to be delayed by even a single year, the potential magnitude of extreme health consequences would be as follows:

  • 26,000 premature deaths;
  • 16,500 non-fatal heart attacks;
  • 178,000 asthma attacks;
  • 12,000 cases of acute or chronic bronchitis;
  • 330,000 cases of upper or lower respiratory symptoms;
  • 18,000 hospital admissions and emergency room visits;
  • 1,290,000 days when people must miss work or school; and
  • 7,750,000 days when people must restrict their activities.

It would be irresponsible to deny these health benefits to the American people.

These EPA rulemakings have been conducted pursuant to clear statutory authorities and court orders, following vacaturs and remands of earlier, unlawful standards. These standards reflect EPA doing its job and not over-reaching. Congress has not changed – and should not change – the longstanding statutory authorities requiring EPA to protect Americans from mercury and other toxic air pollution.

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Sponsors of this legislative attack will try to cast delay as something other than a direct assault on health safeguards.

But when delay causes this much death and disease, it's a public health assault whatever garb the Grim Reaper wears.