Even in today’s divided political climate, taking a stance against mercury and arsenic in our air does not seem like it should be controversial. The gasses, along with other known toxics like chromium, cadmium and selenium are among 84 known air pollutants emitted every year by coal and oil fired power plants.
They have cost us dearly, resulting in as many as 11,000 premature deaths, 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks annually. If we talk about the economy, these pollutants are responsible for 540,000 missed days of work. All this in addition to the terrible havoc these pollutants wreak on ecosystems.
It isn’t like this is a new problem, either. When the Clean Air Act was amended in 1990 it called for new Mercury Air Toxic Standards. A decade overdue, these standards have finally arrived to help us prevent such unnecessary suffering and pain. This is hardly an unprecedented step; the changes were based on protections many power plants had already enacted. All of this makes the barrage of lawsuits industry is filing to delay or dismantle these new standards more perplexing.
Against these legal assaults we are proud to stand alongside the NAACP and 16 other national and state medical, civil rights, environmental, public health and clean air groups.
Collectively, we filed a brief with the D.C. Circuit court of appeals to dismiss these lawsuits on Thursday. This is an issue that affects all Americans, but it has not been borne evenly. As Jacqui Patterson, the director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program has noted, “For African Americans the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards provide lifesaving protection from the myriad life-sapping toxic chemicals we have been exposed to for decades since we bear the brunt of living near coal fired power plants.” By the NAACP’s own reckoning, 68 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of these plants, a fact that many are reminded of every day. Ensuring the MATS standards are enacted is another chapter in the NAACP’s battle for civil justice.
Every American should have the right to breathe easy, safe in the knowledge that their air is not harmful. With the new MATS standards we have taken a step closer to that goal. It is a step that has been a long time coming, and one we take to prevent the 386,000 tons of toxic chemicals these coal and oil plants add to our air every year. The issue has been present for years, and we cannot allow industry to simply roll back this progress. As a nation we promise to offer liberty and justice for all, a statement that makes no exception for Americans living near power plants.