CAMBRIDGE (April 16, 2020)—The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is set to announce a change to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for coal and oil-fired power plants today. Under the revised rule, the EPA will no longer consider all public health benefits that come from reducing mercury emissions. Actions to reduce mercury also bring significant reductions in fine particulate matter, which contributes to serious heart and lung illnesses and exacerbates asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Today’s action comes on the heels of EPA refusing to strengthen particulate pollution standards despite the weight of the science. New research indicates that communities exposed to higher levels of air pollution are also more susceptible to COVID-19.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler weakened the regulations against the guidance of scientific and economic experts. This is a cynical and dangerous decision that ignores the real impact of air pollution and enables future attacks on public health rules, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Below is a statement by Rachel Cleetus, policy director for the Climate and Energy Program at UCS.
“With this new finding, Administrator Wheeler has chosen once more to abandon his agency’s mission and give lie to the Trump administration’s rhetoric about valuing clean air and water. Just yesterday, Administrator Wheeler issued a statement taking pride in the pollution reductions our nation has experienced as a result of the 50-year legacy of the EPA’s protective actions. Yet with today’s announcement, he continues a program of dismantling or undermining the very pollution standards that have delivered the public health benefits he seeks to take credit for.
“This is blatant effort to cook the books by eliminating significant categories of public health benefits that would occur as a direct result of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Not counting what amounts to tens of billions of dollars in public health benefits that flow from these standards every year is a radical break from best practices. The decision also gives EPA a false justification to set much weaker standards for other pollutants in the future. The upending of this long-standing legal, economic and regulatory precedent on cost-benefit analysis could have far-reaching consequences for many other public health protections.
“While Administrator Wheeler claims that the agency will keep the existing mercury standards in place, the decision to go after the underlying basis for the standards is an invitation for industry to kill these vital rules in court.
“The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have been a huge success in reducing dangerous pollution, but the Trump administration seems determined to knock the legs out from under this vital policy. There’s an extensive, well-established body of scientific evidence showing the danger of toxic air pollutants, particularly mercury, which can damage the developing lungs and brains of children. The Wheeler approach of cherry-picking information, relying on outdated estimates, and ignoring clear evidence of benefits makes a mockery of the EPA’s obligation to use the best available science and economics when setting standards.
“This is a broadside attack on our ability to protect communities from air pollution—at a time when that protection has taken on even greater importance—put forth under the cover of a small ‘technical’ change. The Trump administration is rigging the math and setting a dangerous precedent along the way, giving politically powerful industries a handout at an enormous cost to our health.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe and sustainable future. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.