President-elect Donald Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt, Oklahoma Attorney General, to be the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt’s primary previous connection to EPA is that he has joined with corporations in multiple lawsuits to overturn federal safeguards that reduce air pollution and water pollution. Pruitt has joined coal mining companies and power plant companies not once but twice to overturn EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards under the Clean Air Act. These crucial clean air safeguards cut emissions of mercury, arsenic, lead, heavy metals, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, soot and cancer-causing pollutants from power plants across the country that burn coal and oil.
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that Pruitt wants to nullify will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks each year. These annual health benefits occur because the technology and other changes made to comply with these standards prevent 1.4 million tons of harmful sulfur dioxide emissions, 40,000 tons of hazardous acid gases, 52,000 tons of deadly soot pollution and 40,000 pounds of the neurotoxin, mercury, every year. (These pollution reductions and health benefits are over and above those provided by EPA’s Cross State Air Pollution Rule, which Pruitt also sought to overturn.) The health benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are valued at up to $90 billion per year, with compliance costs to power companies of less than $10 billion.
Power plants nationwide are complying with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards today. Power companies complied by installing air pollution control devices or switching to cleaner sources of electricity generation that meet the standards and can save Americans money on their electric bills. Yet even though power plants have already complied, Pruitt is still pursuing his lawsuit to void these life-saving standards—even while his nomination to lead the U.S. EPA is pending.
Pruitt has fought these clean air standards from the moment EPA adopted them in 2011. He has sought to deny Americans the rule’s enormous health benefits. Pruitt wants to let power plants that burn coal and oil emit unlimited amounts of mercury, lead, arsenic, carcinogens and dozens of other hazardous air pollutants across America.
That was the situation before 2011, when air pollution was vastly higher. The Bush EPA broke the law when it refused to regulate the dozens of toxic air pollutants emitted by power plants and created a reckless pollution trading program for the neurotoxin, mercury. A federal court rejected the Bush EPA lawbreaking and set the course for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which were due under the CAA a decade earlier.
Pruitt’s legal efforts to overturn these standards have failed. The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington rejected all legal challenges brought by Pruitt and the power industry. The Supreme Court sent the standards back to EPA for a more formal consideration of costs and benefits, but the Court left their public health protections fully intact by refusing to block implementation of the standards in the meantime. EPA subsequently found that the health benefits to Americans clearly outweigh the costs and reaffirmed the standards.
Pruitt and industry sued again over this finding in their second wave of lawsuits, which are pending. No reasonable observer expects these second lawsuits to succeed. If he were to become EPA Administrator, however, Pruitt would be in a position to try to accomplish from the inside what he has thus far failed to achieve. He could order his agency to begin a new rulemaking in the attempt to reverse these clean air standards. In the current litigation, he could even try to have EPA switch sides and cave in to the state and industry litigants, although he should recuse himself from such decisions because of the lawsuits he’s brought.
In short, Pruitt could try to let power companies once again emit unlimited amounts of the most toxic air pollution covered by the Clean Air Act.
Scott Pruitt does not deserve to be EPA Administrator. Senators should not confirm him.
This chart breaks out on a state-by-state basis the estimated death toll that would have been inflicted upon Americans and the vast health benefits denied to Americans—every year—if Pruitt and his industry co-litigants had succeeded in overturning the EPA Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.
|Area||Maximum Lives Saved by Rule Each Year||Projection of Maximum Health Benefits of Rule Each Year in $|
|United States||11,000||$90 billion|
|District of Columbia||15||$120 million|
|New Hampshire||25||$210 million|
|New Jersey||320||$2.6 billion|
|New Mexico||24||$200 million|
|New York||440||$3.7 billion|
|North Carolina||480||$3.9 billion|
|North Dakota||19||$150 million|
|Rhode Island||29||$240 million|
|South Carolina||330||$2.7 billion|
|West Virginia||96||$790 million|
https://www.epa.gov/mats#whereyoulive. The rule’s health and economic benefits correspond generally to the presence of power plants that burn coal or oil in the state or upwind of the state. Health benefits include avoided mortality, heart and asthma attacks, and other avoided illnesses; avoided ER & hospital visits; and days not missed at work or school.