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Civil Rights, Public Health, Green Groups Defend Life-Saving Toxic Pollution Controls in Court

Rule under attack by polluter industry save up to 11,000 lives each year and protect civil rights
December 10, 2013
Washington, D.C. —

Today the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights organization, the NAACP, along with 17 of the nation’s leading public health and environmental organizations, defends the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Rule before a high federal appeals court. Earthjustice is representing the NAACP, the Sierra Club, Clean Air Council, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in the case.

In their oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the groups outlining why this critical rule is needed to protect civil rights and public health across the United States. The Mercury and Air Toxics Rule will annually prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks. The standards will help avoid more than 540,000 missed work days, and it will also protect babies and children, who are particularly vulnerable to this toxic pollution. The EPA has estimated that every year, more than 300,000 newborns may face elevated risk of learning disabilities due to exposure to toxic forms of mercury in the womb. The NAACP has highlighted the civil rights issues related to clean air in its recent report Coal Blooded, citing the fact that 68 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant.

Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to limit mercury, arsenic, and lead pollution from coal-fired power plants, which are the largest industrial source of air toxics and account for approximately half of all the nation’s mercury emissions. In 2012 after a decade of delay, the agency finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics rule. A group of industry and corporate polluters immediately filed a lawsuit challenging this rule.

The following are statements from three of the groups defending the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule:

Said Jacqueline Patterson, Director, Environmental and Climate Justice Program for NAACP:
“Civil rights are about equal access to protections afforded by law. Given the disproportionate impact of coal combustion pollution which negatively affects the health and educational outcomes as well as the economic wellbeing of communities of color, the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule is a critical tool for exacting justice. These standards provide essential safeguards for communities who are now suffering from decades of toxic exposure.”

Said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew:
“The Mercury and Air Toxics Rule will save up to 11,000 lives a year, prevent 5,000 heart attacks, protect hundreds of thousands of babies each year from developmental disorders, and spare communities of 130,000 asthma attacks each year. If in a lawsuit, you find yourself arguing against the lives of babies, children with asthma, and people suffering from your toxic dumping, then you are on the wrong side of both the lawsuit and history. We have a strong case to protect communities nationwide, and we hope to prevail. Many families are depending upon it.”

Said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Vice President for Litigation Jon Mueller:
“Mercury from power plants is a leading source of the pollution that has led to fish consumption advisories in rivers and streams around the country as well as here in the Chesapeake Bay region. Those contaminated fish put the health of many, including those who fish to feed their families, at risk. We have the technologies to fix this problem. Implementing those technologies will reducing pollution and the associated human health risks, and is a legacy that we should leave to our children and future generations.”

Said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director, Clean Air Council:
“The Mercury and Air Toxics Rule is a crucial component to our collective efforts to hold industry accountable for human health and safety. The standards contained in this rule will ensure needless death and disease are avoided.”

Oral Argument Details:
When: Tuesday, December 10, 2013, 9:30 A.M.
Where: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
USCA Courtroom, Judges Garland, Rogers, Kavanaugh
E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, Fifth Floor
Washington, D.C.

Contacts

Liz Judge, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2007

Ben Wrobel, NAACP, (202) 292-3386

John Surrick, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, (443) 482-2045

Ryan Knapick, Clean Air Council, (215) 567-4004, ext. 125

Sanjay Narayan, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program, (415) 977-5769

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.