EPA Restores Commitment to Cutting Toxic Air Pollution from Coal Plants

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a move to reverse a Trump-era rollback, the Environmental Protection Agency today proposed to restore its previous finding under the Clean Air Act that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury, lead and scores of other hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.  EPA had abandoned that determination under the previous administration. 

The agency’s move would reinstate its finding for applying long-standing clean air protections known as Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) to power plants.  EPA has an obligation under the Clean Air Act and other laws to regulate each of the pollutants under these standards, as each one is dangerous in its own right.

The power sector is one of the nation’s biggest polluters.  Regulating power plant pollution has been one of EPA’s core responsibilities under the Clean Air Act and other laws for half a century.  Power plants are the country’s largest industrial source of mercury, a neurotoxin that can harm children’s developing nervous systems and reduce their ability to think and learn.

The following is a statement from John Walke, director of the clean air program at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council):

“These safeguards work—and there’s proof, if you look at the decrease in mortality, asthma and other health outcomes since they first took effect in 2015. With the Biden-Harris administration clearing away the Trump EPA’s attempted sabotage of these standards, now EPA needs to strengthen the standards to better protect Americans and U.S. air quality.”


President Biden directed the agency to propose action on MATS standards upon taking office.

EPA had adopted the standards in 2011, limiting mercury, lead and seven dozen other harmful air pollutants from power plants that burn coal and oil. And in April 2016, the agency affirmed its own earlier finding, deeming it still “appropriate and necessary” to reduce the pollutants.

MATS has improved health outcomes for millions of kids.  The standards have reduced mercury by 80-90%, and were projected in 2011 to save up to 11,000 lives and yield benefits to the U.S. up to $90 billion a year, including annual avoidance of:

·      up to 11,000 premature deaths

·      up to 130,000 asthma attacks

·      nearly 5000 heart attacks

·      up to 5,700 hospital and ER visits       

·      up to 540,000 missed work or sick days

The costs for industry to comply were projected to be less than $10 billion a year and actual implementation has shown compliance costs to be far lower. All U.S. power plants that burn coal or oil already have complied with the standards.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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