Ann Mesnikoff

Standing up for the Great Lakes at EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard hearing

If there is one thing that should bring Americans together it should be protecting our children. That’s why the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) has such broad public support.

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause lasting brain damage on infants, and the majority comes from coal plants. When MATS was enacted in 2011, after years of scientific research and policy discussions, it required coal plants to reduce their emissions. Since then, they have installed modern pollution-control technology and brought down mercury emissions by up to 90% in Great Lakes states.

Unfortunately, the EPA has proposed gutting MATS by undermining its foundational economic analysis. This proposal uniquely threatens the health and economy of the Midwest, in addition to future regulations and health protections. So, on March 18th I went to EPA to testify against this proposal, at the EPA offices in Washington, D.C. There were children and families, businesses and engineers, policy experts and doctors there was only one lone voice in favor of the EPA’s proposal: a representative from the coal industry – Murray energy. Surprise, surprise…
Here are the points I made in my testimony:

1) The EPA should hold additional hearings on this proposal. Mercury poses a unique threat to the Great Lakes, where there are still many coal-fired power plants. Their emissions are deposited into our waterways through rain, snow, or dry deposition, where mercury is taken up by plants and then animal life up the food chain – ultimately it is in fish we eat. Because mercury is so dangerous, public health officials issue “mercury advisories” to protect families and babies who are most at risk of lifelong brain damage. Due to these regional threats, the Environmental Law & Policy Center joined with 34 partner organizations from across the region to request EPA hold a hearing in Chicago to address the concerns of mercury pollution to the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater ecosystem on earth, containing approximately one-fifth of the world’s freshwater supply. The lakes support diverse populations of fish, wildlife, and plants, and they provide drinking water to more than 48 million people in the U.S. and Canada. One EPA hearing on this issue is inadequate to afford the public a meaningful opportunity to testify, and the EPA shows a clear disdain for the affected communities of the Midwest by holding the only hearing in Washington, D.C. We asked for additional hearings in Great Lakes states and additional time for written comments. While we did not get a Great Lakes hearing, you can still let EPA know you oppose this dangerous proposal through our action center here until April 17.

2) The EPA should withdraw this dangerous proposal. EPA should be working to protect public health and implement the Clean Air Act. This proposal is contrary to EPA’s core mission. The thing is, MATS has already been implemented, and coal plants were able to install pollution controls at a lower cost than expected, so even the energy industry is against rolling back this successful rule, which they now see in the rear-view mirror. While the EPA claims to be leaving the standards in place, their proposal undermines MATS by finding that it is inappropriate to consider the full range of health benefits associated with any pollution reductions other than the rule target: mercury.

The fact is that MATS led to lower mercury pollution, but it also reduced nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, smog, and particulate matter, which have been linked to diabetes, asthma, heart attacks, COPD, and endocrine disruption in children, adults, and the elderly. These are real benefits and they benefit the public and reduce health care costs – they should count! EPA’s proposal to significant shift away from considering the full range of benefits will undermine future standards for mercury and other pollutants.

3) Nobody even wants this. Power plants have already invested in the pollution-control equipment, so rolling back MATS wouldn’t save them any money, but it could mean billions in healthcare costs for the American people. EPA is up against a unified front of industry leaders, environmental organizations, and public health groups who all want MATS to remain in place. The only people who could even think to benefit from this are coal mine owners like Trump & Wheeler’s buddies at Murray energy, but they don’t seem to realize that no amount of legal maneuvering can bring back the dying coal industry. Coal is now more expensive than unsubsidized solar and wind. The federal government shouldn’t be putting these outdated interests above the health of our children and the future strength of our economy.

This is one more dangerous proposal from the Trump EPA – we need more public health protections not less. Help us make sure that EPA sees how strong the opposition is – we’ve made it easy to send your comments to EPA. We cannot afford to go backwards on mercury pollution and reverse progress on keeping this toxin out of our lakes and the environment.

Take action! Tell the EPA don’t mess with MATS

Ann Mesnikoff,

Federal Legislative Director

Ann Mesnikoff is the federal legislative director at ELPC, working in Washington, D.C., with the Midwest Congressional Delegation and national coalitions to advance supportive clean energy, clean water and clean air, and transportation reform policies.

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