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Lives On The Line: Mercury Standards & Power Plants

A coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania, reflected in a neighboring home's window.

Coal-fired power plants are the nation's worst toxic air polluters. The pollution from these plants have serious impacts on health—including causing premature death.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice

What's at Stake

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will annually prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, and nearly 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks.

A decision for the coal industry would mean thousands of people across our country would continue to die unnecessary, premature deaths—all to protect the profits of the worst corporate polluters.

Case Overview

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exempted power plants from Clean Air Act regulations, even though these power plants emit into the air tons of mercury and other toxins—known threats to human health.

In February 2008, a federal appeals court ruled that the EPA did not have the authority to exempt the power plants.

In April 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the EPA’s 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).

MATS will annually prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, and more than 540,000 missed days of work days. It will also protect babies and children from exposures to mercury than can damage their ability to develop and learn.

The EPA has estimated that every year, more than 300,000 newborns face elevated risk of learning disabilities due to exposure to mercury in the womb.

On March 25, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a critical case involving mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants. The coal industry and its allies are claiming that EPA cannot decide whether to protect the public and the environment from toxic air pollution without first considering the effect on the industry’s bottom line. A decision for the coal industry would mean thousands of people across our country would continue to die unnecessary, premature deaths—all to protect the profits of the worst corporate polluters.

Video: In the Shadow of the Stacks

Hear from attorney Jim Pew and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know first-hand what it means to live in the shadow of a smokestack and the specter of a plume.

(This case is now closed. To learn about recent Earthjustice litigation to clean up the air we breathe, visit the Clean Air Focus Area.)

Case ID

3532

Attorneys

Case Updates

November 14, 2014 | Legal Document

Industry Opposition to MATS Challenge

Industry petition filed with the Supreme Court opposing an industry challenge to EPA's 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Rule

November 14, 2014 | Legal Document

Environmental Opposition to MATS Challenge

Environmental argument filed with the US Supreme Court against industry’s last attempt to challenge the EPA's 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Rule

May 16, 2014 | Blog Post

Courts Demand Clean Air for Americans

Over the last few weeks, the nation’s federal courts—including the Supreme Court—have blessed Americans with four major clean air victories.

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Related Features

In the Shadow of the Stacks

Hear from attorney Jim Pew, who has worked for more than a decade to clean up coal plants, and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a smokestack and the specter of a plume.

The Right To Breathe

Every time you blow out a candle, every time you blow a bubble, you declare the right to breathe. Air pollution threatens that right. The Clean Air Act defends it. Everyone has the right to breathe. Clean air should be a fundamental right. Watch the Right to Breathe video.

Life Under The Stacks

Coal plant pollution has a serious impact on health: every year, it causes exacerbated asthma, heart problems, hospital visits, days when people miss work and school, and worst of all, premature death. See a photo slideshow of two Pennsylvanians who live next door to a coal-fired power plant.