NRDC’s Gina McCarthy: EPA Rollback Undermines Limits on Mercury, Lead and Other Toxic Air Pollution

WASHINGTON - The Environmental Protection Agency has finalized a rule undermining federal standards for mercury, lead and other toxic air pollution from power plants. These long-standing clean-air protections are saving more than 10,000 lives, avoiding 130,000 asthma attacks and nearly 5,000 heart attacks, every year.

Following is a statement from Gina McCarthy, President and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):

“This is an absolute abomination. This final rule will increase the risk of more kids with asthma and brain damage, and more people with cancer. If these standards are overturned, there would be nothing to prevent power plants from immediately emitting a range of toxic pollutants—and you can bet they will.

“Undermining these vital safeguards now also directly threatens the people hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic—making it even harder to breathe and putting people with respiratory illnesses at even higher risk.

“On top of that, utilities already are complying with the mercury standards and oppose this rollback. As a result, we’ve seen a nearly 90% reduction in the brain-damaging and life-threatening impacts of mercury that has improved health outcomes for millions of kids. And it was accomplished without threatening electricity reliability or consumer prices.

“The only ones who benefit from this are powerful polluters—at the expense of our health, and our children’s health. We can do better, we must do better, and we are going to fight this in court to make sure we do.”


In December 2011, when Gina McCarthy headed the EPA Office of Air & Radiation, the agency adopted the first-ever national limits on mercury, lead and seven dozen more hazardous air pollutants from power plants that burn coal and oil. These limits were called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

Then, in April 2016, as EPA Administrator, McCarthy affirmed EPA’s 2011 finding that it remained “appropriate and necessary” to reduce all hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-burning power plants, using the Clean Air Act’s most effective tools that resulted in the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Mercury, lead and other airborne poisons from power plants can damage children’s developing nervous systems and reduce their ability to think and learn. Other air hazardous pollutants cause numerous health hazards, including cancer, heart attacks, strokes and various respiratory illnesses.

EPA projected that the benefits for clean air and health in the United States from MATS would be as much as $90 billion per year, including 540,000 days when Americans will not miss work or school.  The compliance costs to industry were projected to be less than $10 billion, annually, and actual implementation has shown compliance costs to be even lower. Virtually all U.S. power plants that burn coal or oil have been complying with the standards since 2015-2016.


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) 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 and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​


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