Wheeler’s EPA secretly moves to let more mercury in the air

WASHINGTON, D.C. December 28, 2018 – Today, Andrew Wheeler’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced it wants to gut the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, or MATS, which protects families from mercury and other toxic pollution from power plants and other sources. According to EPA, this rule prevents tens of thousands of premature deaths, asthma attacks and hospital visits every year.

For years, EPA defended MATS as necessary to protect life, and industry complied, but now the agency under Wheeler is manipulating its analysis to rid itself of the protections. Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, wants to enable uneconomic coal- and oil-burning power plants to profit by allowing them to produce more toxic emissions of mercury, arsenic and other pollutants. Most of the industry has already complied with the regulation, except for a few delinquent utilities.

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“The mission of the EPA is to protect public health and the environment. Gutting MATS will put toxic pollution back in our air and cause thousands of people to die unnecessary premature deaths every year,” said Earthjustice staff attorney James Pew. “Wheeler knows he’s wrong, which is why he’s using a con man’s tricks to give a Christmas present to industry and a lump of coal to the rest of the country. Like the Grinch, it appears, his heart is two sizes too small.”

MATS was set in place to protect communities from toxic air pollutants such as mercury and arsenic, substances particularly hazardous to pregnant women, babies, and children. The rule works. When EPA created MATS in 2011, its own analysis determined that the rule would prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks, and 5,700 hospital visits every year, saving taxpayers as much as 90 billion dollars in healthcare costs a year. The latest government figures show around an 80 percent reduction in mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants since the rule was adopted.

The industry invested billions of dollars in equipment like scrubbers to rid their smokestacks of these deadly pollutants, and strongly opposes to deregulate the safe management of mercury, arsenic and the other neurotoxins covered under MATS.