The Trump Administration Is Gutting a Toxic Emissions Standard

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

The Trump administration defies utilities, scientists, health professionals, and his own EPA to rollback mercury emissions standards and put lives in danger
Trump administration seeks rollback of toxic mercury emissions standards, putting thousands of lives in jeopardy

The Trump administration proposed changes in December to the Obama-era Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Instead of withdrawing the rule, the Trump administration is weakening it. The changes would not regulate hazardous air pollutant emissions from coal and oil power plants. The EPA thinks it is not “appropriate and necessary” to regulate them.

The Union of Concerned Scientists characterizes the proposed changes as “ a crafty, nasty, and dangerous proposal that could roll back current safeguards and undermine future public health and environmental protections.”

After Scott Pruitt was forced to resign as the EPA administrator, Trump appointed acting administrator Andrew Wheeler. He is a former lobbyist and coal company, Murray Energy was his biggest client. The head of Murray Energy, Robert E. Murray, gave Trump a wish list of requests, and the administration has either completed or is on track to complete the environmental rollbacks he requested, the New York Times reported.

Environmental Working Group President Ken Cook describes the proposed changes to MATS as “what happens when the agency that’s supposed to protect Americans’ health is run by a former coal lobbyist.”

By the EPA’s own estimates, MATS would prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks every year. The value of the air quality improvements for human health is $37 billion to $90 billion a year. For every dollar spent to reduce the hazardous air pollutant emissions from coal and oil power plants, Americans receive $3 to $9 in health benefits. In addition, up to 540,000 missed work or “sick” days would be avoided annually.

“This is an unconscionable rollback to serve the coal industry at the expense of all Americans, especially our children,” said John Walke, Clean Air Director, Climate & Clean Energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“And it says EPA's just fine with allowing brain poisons mercury and lead, and toxic carcinogens to fill our skies. That's absurd, it's dangerous and we'll fight to stop this rollback with every available tool.”

A group of utility companies wrote a letter to EPA air chief Bill Wehrum in support of MATS. “It is important to note that all covered plants have implemented the regulations and that pollution controls — where needed — are installed and operating,” the letter said.

Utility companies are not the only ones to support MATS. Health experts do too. “The American Lung Association strongly opposes this effort to undermine these lifesaving and successful limits on toxic pollution from power plants. Lives, children's health and their futures depend on it,” said American Lung Association National President and CEO Harold P. Wimmer.

The changes to MATS could have a chilling effect on future proposed regulations. As Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) said, “With this action, EPA is also setting a dangerous precedent that a federal agency –charged with protecting the environment and public health – will no longer factor in all the clear health, environmental, and economics benefits of clean air policies, such as reducing cancer and birth defects.”

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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