ELPC Science Advisory Council Member Joel Blum’s Op-Ed in Free Press Calls on Michigan AG to End Fight Against Mercury Standards

Schuette Rebuff Should End Fight Against Mercury Standards

By Joel D. Blum and Dr. Sharon Swindell

This week the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s latest effort to block federal mercury standards. We ask the Attorney General, after four years of fighting, to let it go. Let’s embrace mercury limits, not fight them. As a scientist and a pediatrician, we are deeply troubled when the futures of children are jeopardized because science is cast aside, and decisions are made based on politics and bureaucracy.

Mercury, like lead, is a neurotoxin. Also like lead, mercury is most harmful to children and can impact fetal development leading to a lifetime of harmful effects on language, memory, visual-motor skills, and attention. Most mercury exposure comes from the consumption of fish. In short, mercury emissions from industrial sources like power plants are deposited on land and water where some is converted to methylmercury. This highly toxic form of mercury enters food chains and bio-accumulates in fish. When people eat contaminated fish they ingest and accumulate methylmercury in their bodies. Pregnant women share that mercury with highly vulnerable fetuses.

The real and present danger of mercury in Michigan fish has resulted in fish advisories for nearly every lake and river in our state. These advisories, developed through collaboration between Michigan State Agencies, identify fish species that should be limited or completely avoided. Data show high mercury levels in fish consumed in the Great Lakes region and species with the highest mercury include locally-caught walleye, bass and pike and locally-bought swordfish, king mackerel, shark and tilefish.

But fish is too good a source of nutrients to give it up completely — and many types of fish have low levels of mercury. The EPA and FDA jointly offer recommendations online for fish with lower mercury levels that can be found in stores, including salmon, pollock and cod.

Schuette’s argument for fighting mercury standards has been that the measure would cost Michigan ratepayers. Yet our state’s large coal-plant owning utilities like Consumers Energy and DTE have filed documents saying they are moving forward with mercury controls. While Michigan’s plants are on track to emit less mercury, if successful, Schuette’s efforts would allow plants in other Midwestern states to keep releasing mercury that deposits in Michigan’s lakes, rivers and streams contaminating our fish.

We know mercury contamination threatens our children’s futures. As weather warms, and parents take their children fishing, let’s commit to a future when it will be safe to eat what we catch. Let’s work for a future when parents don’t have to worry about exposing their children to unsafe levels of mercury. Schuette should end his effort to block limits on mercury emissions. Michigan’s children need an advocate in the Attorney General’s office.

Joel D. Blum is professor of Earth & environmental sciences at the University of Michigan. Dr. Sharon Swindell, MD, MPH, is a clinical assistant professor at Ypsilanti Pediatrics in the University of Michigan Health System. The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of their employers.

Read at the Free Press 

Press Release: U.S. Supreme Court Today Dismisses Federal Mercury Standards Challenge

June 13, 2016

Contact: Judith Nemes (312) 795-3706

U.S. Supreme Court Today Dismisses Federal Mercury Standards Challenge
Time for Michigan AG Bill Schuette, Others to Exit Lawsuit

Washington, DC – Today the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari filed by a group of states led by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to void implementation of the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS), which will reduce mercury pollution and better protect children’s health and the Great Lakes.

The effect of the U.S. Supreme Court’s order today is that implementation of the federal mercury standards go forward while Michigan’s and the other state’s challenges of other aspects of the regulation continues before the U.S. Court of Appeals.

“The Environmental Law & Policy Center is pleased that the Supreme Court denied Michigan and some other states’ appeal, and that the mercury pollution reduction standards will finally go forward to protect children’s health and safe water,” said Howard Learner, ELPC’s Executive Director.

“Mercury is a known neurotoxin that impairs children’s brain development and harms maternal health. It’s time for all coal plants to install widely-available modern pollution control technologies to reduce mercury emissions that contaminate our Great Lakes, inland lakes and rivers. It’s time for Michigan Attorney General Schuette to bring his ideological litigation to an end and, instead, work hard to protect children’s health and safe drinking water supplies in Michigan. The lessons learned from the Flint water contamination highlight the importance of safe drinking water supplies in Michigan and the Midwest for all.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette has led the national lawsuit opposing implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Last Thursday, more than 50 Michigan scientists signed a letter urging Michigan AG Schuette to drop his opposition to MATS.

The scientists worked with ELPC in calling attention to Michigan AG Schuette’s persistence in standing in the way of federal standards intended to make air and water cleaner and improve the safety of eating certain fish. This past weekend was a free fishing weekend in Michigan, where many more anglers throughout the state were expected to cast their fishing poles in a nearby waterway without a required license to fish and possibly bring some home for dinner. Michigan’s most dangerous fish to eat because of mercury bioaccumulation include bass, walleye and northern pike. That can and should change going forward.


Scientists Urge Michigan AG to Stop Fighting EPA Mercury Standards, Local Fish Contaminated

By Tim Burke, Big Rapids Daily News

Eating fish is the biggest source of mercury contamination for people, and as Michiganders gear up for the Free Fishing Weekend, more than 50 Michigan scientists are asking Attorney General Bill Schuette to drop his fight against the EPA’s federal Mercury and Air Toxins Standards, which require power plants to reduce mercury emissions.

University of Michigan Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Joel Blum says there is strong support for the rule in the scientific community.

“Mercury is one of those toxins that we’re exposed to that we can actually do something about. And the costs of implementing these emissions controls on the power plants are well worth the savings that result from not exposing people to high levels of mercury in the fish that they eat.”

Mercury is a neurotoxin that can cause damage to the heart, brain, and nervous system, and more than half the mercury deposited in Michigan comes from coal-plant emissions.

Consumers Energy has already closed seven aging coal-fired plants and is now operating a replacement gas-powered plant.

Although recommendations vary by size and type of fish, the Michigan Department of Community Health recommends not eating more than one to two servings of fish per month for most fish tested in Mecosta and Newaygo Counties due to mercury contamination. See the MDCH Eat Safe Fish Guide for more information.

Schuette contends the mercury rule is federal overreach that could result in higher electricity rates.

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce on Monday if it will discuss or dismiss a challenge to the mercury rule brought by Michigan and several other states.

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Greenwire: Michigan Scientists & ELPC Urge State AG to Exit Mercury Case

Mich. scientists urge state AG to exit mercury case

As the Supreme Court was scheduled to huddle in private today on whether to accept 27 states’ latest challenge to U.S. EPA’s power plant mercury regulations, a group of Michigan scientists publicly urged the state’s Attorney General Bill Schuette (R) to exit the case.”We are concerned that you are leading a national legal campaign against these standards, even now as Michigan grapples with the ongoing tragedy in Flint related to lead — another neurotoxin and heavy-metal pollutant,” Joel Blum, a professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan, wrote in a letter sent today to Schuette.

Also signing on were some 50 other academics and scientists from around the state; Blum participated in a conference call this morning with reporters.

Michigan heads the list of state plaintiffs appealing EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards released in 2012 to curb emissions of the toxic metal and other pollutants. EPA recently tweaked the regulations after the high court’s ruling last year that the agency had failed to adequately weigh compliance costs. Michigan and the other states are now arguing that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit lacked the authority to meanwhile leave the unlawful rule in place. The Supreme Court justices were scheduled to meet this morning to discuss taking the appeal; they could announce a decision as early as next week (Greenwire, May 25).

Helping to orchestrate the scientific show of opposition to Schuette’s position was the Environmental Law and Policy Center, a Chicago-based advocacy group that in March had also written Schuette to urge his withdrawal from the case (Greenwire, March 10).


Press Release: Michigan Scientists Call on AG Schuette to Drop Opposition to Federal Mercury Standards 

State readies for free fishing weekend, mercury can contaminate some local sportsfish

Contact: Judith Nemes, (312) 795-3706,

Grand Rapids, Mich. – As Michigan prepares for a free fishing weekend, a group of 50+ scientists sent a letter to state Attorney General Bill Schuette urging him to drop his opposition to federal standards for mercury pollution that are intended to lead to cleaner air and water. The AG has rejected requests from the Environmental Law & Policy Center and other health and environmental groups to withdraw from a lawsuit seeking to block the standard.

“There is no good reason for the attorney general to oppose federal mercury standards that will decrease harmful pollution in the state’s waterways,” says Margrethe Kearney, an ELPC Staff Attorney in Grand Rapids, Mich. “The AG’s job is to protect the citizens of Michigan, and he can do that by withdrawing the state from the lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Even Michigan’s coal plants are complying with the new standard.”

This morning, a letter signed by more than 50 scientists who live and work in Michigan was delivered to the Attorney General’s office. They are asking the AG to call off his fight against the federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which was adopted by the U.S. EPA to improve the quality of air we breathe, assure that local fish are safer to eat, and protect and preserve wildlife and natural spaces from harmful pollution originating in Michigan and elsewhere.

“Most of the mercury deposited in Michigan comes from coal-fired power plant emissions and a substantial amount comes from plants in other states,” says Joel Blum, Professor of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan. “By enforcing the U.S. EPA’s MATS we have an important path to protect the air and water in our state by limiting emissions from coal-fired power plants beyond our state borders that deposit harmful mercury in Michigan.”

Scientists also signed on to the letter to Attorney General Schuette because they are concerned about the damaging effects of mercury on our bodies, especially for young children that are still developing, for pregnant women, and others.

“Even adults exposed to mercury can experience damage to their nervous system, and some new research shows there are possible impacts on the immune and cardiovascular systems,” says Jerome Nriagu, Emeritus Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the University of Michigan. “Most of mercury’s harmful effects on human health come from eating contaminated fish.”

Here is a copy of the scientist letter sent to the Attorney General today:

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court today will decide whether to discuss or dismiss the case led by Attorney General Schuette and the state of Michigan. The court’s decision will be announced Monday.

ELPC hosted a press briefing on this subject today. Click here to listen to a podcast.

In the mean time, Michigan residents will want to know what fish are safe for them to eat if they catch any in local rivers, lakes and streams. Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services offers valuable information about safe fish consumption broken down by region. Here’s a link:


Crain’s Detroit Business: ELPC’s Learner Calls on Gov. Snyder to Tell his AG to Withdraw from Mercury Lawsuit

Schuette still trying to block EPA rules to lower mercury pollution into environment

by Jay Greene 

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette didn’t like the “no” answer Chief Justice John Roberts gave him earlier this month on his quest to allow utility companies to exhaust more mercury and other pollutants into the atmosphere.

Now, Schuette, in a March 18 petition for a writ of certiorari, has asked the entire U.S. Supreme Court to hear his appeal to block the EPA’s mercury and air toxics standards rule.

“When an agency promulgates a rule without any statutory authority, may a reviewing court leave the unlawful rule in place?” Schuette, who is leading a 20-state coalition to stop the EPA from enforcing its mercury rule, asked the court.

To hear Schuette’s appeal, four SCOTUS justices now must vote in favor of his position. With the recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the court now has eight members.

Just using basic math, if Roberts doesn’t change his opinion on the case, it appears  Schuette has only three votes on the court from conservative-leaning justices.

Environmental groups and an opposing group of states have asked that Schuette drop the case for public health reasons. They also believe the EPA is well within its statutory authority to enforce its rule under the Clean Air Act.

But Schuette believes that because the Supreme Court last July — in a 5-4 vote with an opinion written by Scalia — found the EPA’s mercury rule illegal because it didn’t consider the costs to industry of implementing the rule, the court should also freeze the rule.

Instead, the SCOTUS decision sent the case back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for further consideration.

The D.C. Circuit Court, however, appears to be giving the EPA time to revise its rule. The EPA has said it will comply with SCOTUS and enumerate its belief that the benefits of the mercury rule justify its costs to the power plant industry.

In Michigan, officials for Consumers Energy Co. and DTE Energy Co. have already stated they are prepared to meet the EPA’s new rules. They already have spent millions installing pollution control equipment to comply.

Schuette apparently believes Justice Roberts and the D.C. Circuit Court are wrong and he is right.

“It is a fundamental principle of administrative law that agency actions taken without statutory authority must be vacated,” Schuette said in his petition.

Schuette is also involved in a court case to terminate the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, another EPA rule that the state’s utilities apparently feel they can easily meet.

While initially supporting the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder has suspended action by the state to comply with the rule that aims to reduce carbon emission pollution, a necessary step to slow global warming.

States supporting Schuette are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, West Virginia and Wyoming.

States that support the EPA’s mercury reduction rule include Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont and the District of Columbia.

Environmentalists say Schuette could challenge the rule again before the D.C. Circuit and then appeal to the Supreme Court later if he doesn’t like the answer.

Earlier this month, Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center and a professor at theUniversity of Michigan, wrote Schuette and asked him to give up his legal quest. “In light of the lead contamination affecting the drinking water supply in Flint, Schuette ought to be sensitive to the importance of reducing mercury pollution that harms children’s health and our environment,” Learner wrote.

Last week, I listened to Snyder testify in Congress about Michigan’s poor initial response to lead in Flint’s drinking water. While he blamed himself and state government, he seemed to give equal blame to the EPA for not pushing Michigan hard enough to protect Flint’s drinking water supply.

It was a very unusual performance by Snyder, I thought. Blame me, but also blame them, he seemed to be saying. Republicans on the committee were more than happy to agree with Snyder and they strongly attacked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for not being more heavy handed.

I wonder what Snyder would say now that the EPA is pushing hard to clean up Michigan’s air from excessive mercury and carbon dioxide pollution?

Learner said Snyder should show leadership by calling on Schuette to withdraw his litigation against the EPA and its effort to improve air and water in Michigan and elsewhere. “It’s time for Michigan’s public officials to show that they’ve learned the lessons from the Flint contaminated water tragedy by taking responsive actions, not just more rhetoric,” Learner said.

Snyder should tell us whether he wants a strong EPA, as he suggested in the Congressional hearings, or does he want a weak EPA, as Schuette apparently does, when it comes to mercury pollution? At least Schuette is consistent. With Snyder, however, he can’t have it both ways. Or can he?

ELPC’s Learner Talks with Midwest Energy News: Flint Shows Need to Stop Fighting EPA Pollution Rules

In the context of Flint, Michigan’s ongoing lead-tainted water crisis, regional environmental groups are calling on Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette to stop his fight against federal rules for mercury emissions from power plants.

The Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center sent a letter to Schuette on March 8, calling on him to stop challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in federal court.

Utilities across the country — including the two largest in Michigan, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy — are already moving to comply with the new rules, meaning a court decision to overturn them could have little practical impact.

The rules have reportedly led to the closing of about 100 coal plants nationwide. The EPA says the standards will prevent up to 410 premature deaths in Michigan and create up to $3.4 billion in health benefits this year.

“Why in the world — especially in light of the Flint water tragedy — is Attorney General Bill Schuette and Michigan leading the national litigation to stop or stall mercury pollution reduction standards?” Howard Learner, executive director of the ELPC, said in an interview with Midwest Energy News. “That is simply tone deaf to the reality of the circumstances when it comes to the need to reduce toxic pollution to protect children’s health and the environment.”

Schuette has maintained that the rules would be too costly. In a statement last month as he asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt the rules, Schuette said: “For more than seven months since this Court’s decision in Michigan v. EPA, (the rule) has already caused irreparable harm. It has imposed literally billions of dollars of compliance costs on utilities, and by extension, all families who use electricity.”

Learner countered: “Now that Consumers Energy and DTE have already installed mercury pollution control equipment, any argument that Attorney General Bill Schuette is making that it would somehow save Michigan consumers money or impact jobs is looking backward rather than today’s reality.”

Learner went on to call Schuette’s challenge based on costs “penny wise and pound foolish,” similar to how Flint’s water supply was tainted by lead as part of an effort to save the city money.

He added that “the irony here” is that even if the mercury rules are overturned in the courts, DTE and Consumers would end up being at a “competitive disadvantage” with utilities in other states that perhaps hadn’t invested in pollution controls. And yet Michigan would still be subject to mercury pollution from those other states, Learner said.

The EPA adopted the mercury rules for coal plants in 2013. Shortly after, in Michigan vs. EPA, Schuette led 19 other states, utilities and coal companies to challenge the standards in federal court.

A federal circuit court upheld the standards in April 2014. After an appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court in June reversed the lower court’s ruling, saying narrowly that the EPA had to revisit the standards and give more consideration to costs. The Supreme Court, however, did not invalidate the rules.

The EPA is expected to issue a final rule by April 15. Schuette’s case is still pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

But following the U.S. Supreme Court’s surprise decision to stay the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, Schuette asked the High Court to essentially do the same for the mercury rules. Chief Justice John Roberts denied Schuette’s request on March 3.

“I have little doubt that when the EPA issues its final rule, some utilities and states will appeal those mercury pollution reduction standards,” Learner said. “It seems they’re appealing anything and everything the EPA is doing.”

Mercury is a neurotoxin that can impair fetal brain development and reduce a child’s IQ and ability to learn. Learner called the rules “sound regulation to avoid mercury contamination of the Great Lakes, inland lakes and rivers that results in the bioaccumulation of mercury in fish, which are eaten by people.”

The EPA estimates $3 to $9 in health benefits for every dollar spent on compliance.

Even if the EPA’s rules are invalidated, Michigan’s statewide mercury rules would take effect, Learner said.

Roberts’ March 3 decision to reject a stay — as well as the ongoing water problems in Flint — drove the ELPC to appeal to Schuette.

“We hope Attorney General Bill Schuette and Michigan public officials have learned the tragic lessons of the Flint poisoned water crisis,” Learner said. “This is the time to know when to hold them and know when to fold them and stop gambling with children’s health.”

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Public News Service: ELPC Asks Michigan Attorney General to Drop Pushback of Mercury Standards

By Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service

An environmental group and other concerned Michiganders are asking state Attorney General Bill Schuette to halt attempts to block regulations to reduce a known neurotoxin.

Despite the Supreme Court’s recent denial of requests by Michigan and other states to stay the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, Schuette has not stopped efforts to restrict the measure. Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, said continuing litigation before the District of Columbia Court of Appeals is not in the best interest of the state and public health.

“Mercury’s a neurotoxin. It produces fetal brain damage, it slows the development of IQ and it hurts kids’ learning ability,” he said. “Mercury, once it’s in a pregnant woman’s bloodstream, passes through the placental barrier; it affects fetal brain development and it harms children.”

Schuette and other opponents have argued that the new rules are federal overreach and expensive for utilities to implement. But Learner says Consumers Energy and DTE already are set to comply with the standards with plans to install modern pollution-control equipment on coal plants. The final rule is expected by mid-April.

Learner said the push to block the mercury rules could hurt utilities in Michigan. The irony, he said, is that Shuette “is potentially continuing litigation that would reward utilities in other states that have not yet installed mercury-pollution control equipment and put them at a competitive advantage over Consumers Energy and DTE.”

Learner said the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has acknowledged the threat posed by mercury contamination in the Great Lakes. In the wake of Flint’s water crisis, he said, more vigilance is needed in protecting public health.

He called on Shuette “to stand up for healthy kids and clean water, for our coal plants to reduce mercury pollution, and for us to move on and learn the lessons that have happened in the state for the last several months.”

According to initial assessments from the Environmental Protection Agency, the standards could result in between $37 billion and $90 billion in health and environmental benefits annually. That analysis is being updated by the agency.

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Midwest Energy News: ELPC to Focus on Issues Such as Mercury Pollution on ORSANCO Advisory Committee

Conservation and environmental groups will now have a formal seat at the table when regulators meet to review water quality issues and standards for the Ohio River – a status enjoyed by the power industry and other groups for years.

Last month the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) agreed to formation of the new Watershed Organizations Advisory Committee. The move was a response to a June 2015 petition from 17 groups.

Although the groups had been submitting comments and participating informally, formal status comes with a nonvoting seat at technical committee meetings, a closer opportunity to participate with various working committees, and an opportunity to report at ORSANCO’s board meetings.

“In the entire 68-year history of ORSANCO, there has never before been an official seat at the table for watershed and wildlife advocacy organizations,” noted Judy Petersen of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, who chairs the new committee.

“We’re pleased to have the Watershed Organizations Advisory Committee established to help us in our development of Ohio River studies and policy,” said ORSANCO’s executive director, Richard Harrison. “We’re looking forward to working with them collaboratively to improve Ohio River water and quality.”

Mercury issues continue

The power industry’s advisory committee hasn’t focused on any single issue, Harrison noted, but has rather been involved with the wide range of issues that affect the river and its tributaries.

Nonetheless, various issues are particularly relevant to the energy industry, said Madeline Fleisher of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Columbus, Ohio. That includes mercury pollution, which can originate from coal-burning power plants, as well as other sources.

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Greenwire: ELPC’s Learner Urges Michigan to Drop Fight Against EPA Mercury Rule

Michigan, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging U.S. EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, should drop its appeal and withdraw from the case, a Midwestern advocacy group urged this week in a letter to the state’s attorney general.

Following U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts’ refusal last week to freeze the rule, “It is time for the litigation challenging these important standards to come to an end,” Howard Learner, executive director of the Chicago-based Environmental Law & Policy Center, told Attorney General Bill Schuette (R). The organization late yesterday released the letter dated Tuesday.

Among other factors arguing in favor of dropping the case, Learner wrote: Michigan’s two largest coal plant owners, DTE Energy Co. and Consumers Energy, are already installing pollution control equipment to comply with the standards, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services has recognized the public health threat of eating fish in which mercury has “bioaccumulated.”

In light of the lead contamination affecting the drinking water supply in Flint, Mich., Schuette “ought to be sensitive to the importance of reducing mercury pollution that harms children’s health and our environment,” Learner added in an interview this morning. A Schuette spokeswoman did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

The Environmental Law & Policy Center operates around the Midwest, with an office in Grand Rapids, Mich. Nineteen other states have joined Michigan in challenging the standards; Learner said his group may make similar appeals to Iowa and others in the region.

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