Conservation Groups Seek Freeze of Weak EPA Rule on Power Plants Air Toxics Controls

Legal motion will protect millions from toxic air emissions


James Pew, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500

Several conservation groups will file today a motion requesting that a federal court of appeals stay a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency to exempt over 1,300 power plants nationwide from laws requiring stringent control for emissions of mercury, lead, arsenic and other highly toxic substances. The motion comes on the heels of litigation filed by 13 states and 12 conservation groups challenging EPA’s unlawful move.

Today’s motion, filed in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, asks the court to freeze EPA’s categorical exemption of coal-fired power plants from clean up requirements under the Clean Air Act’s hazardous air pollutant control program. If successful, the motion will immediately enforce the law’s highly protective clean air requirements for the hazardous air pollutants discharged from power plant smokestacks nationwide. The motion will not delay any measures to lower mercury pollution from power plants, but will instead seek to force EPA to accelerate cleanup by two decades.

“Pollution from these power plants threatens public health,” said Nat Mund, Senior Washington Representative for Sierra Club. “They put thousands of tons of highly toxic substances into our air every year. Some of these pollutants, like mercury, lead, arsenic, and dioxins, can have catastrophic effects on peoples’ lives and health.”

“It is a sad irony that the agency Congress created to protect public health and the environment is now doing just the opposite,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew. “EPA is brazenly breaking the law to help power plants avoid cleaning up their toxic emissions.”

“Environmental Defense is compelled to take legal action because EPA has exempted coal-fired power plants nationwide from the bedrock clean air safeguards that are critical to protect human health from toxic air pollution,” said Environmental Defense attorney Janea Scott.

“Power plants can clean up mercury effectively and inexpensively if they are made to do so,” says Felice Stadler, a National Wildlife Federation Policy Specialist. “EPA has a responsibility to future generations of Americans to control these toxic emissions.”

Today’s stay motion is a joint legal action along with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Waterkeeper Alliance, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Clean Air Task Force, who is representing U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), Ohio Environmental Council, and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“EPA’s action gives power plants a license to pollute by exempting them from strict pollution controls,” said NRDC Senior Attorney Jon Devine. “The fastest way to get power plants to clean up their toxic pollution is to stop this action in its tracks. That’s exactly what today’s motion would do.”

“Our clients and their members are extremely concerned about the harm caused by existing and new power plant sources of mercury and other toxic air pollutants on their families and children, and on the natural environment in which they live,” said Ann Brewster Weeks, Litigation Director for Clean Air Task Force.

“People are being warned not to eat fish from waters in every state within the Chesapeake Bay watershed due to mercury pollution,” said Will Baker, President of The Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “In the face of this, EPA is proposing to do what? Increase the levels of mercury in fish.”

Mercury is a harmful neurotoxin that has been found to stall the development of children’s brains, both in and out of the womb. Every year an estimated 630,000 babies are born in America with unsafe levels of mercury in their blood. More than 40 states have issued fish advisories due to mercury contamination in some or all their state’s waters. Coal-burning electric power plants emit vast quantities of toxic air pollution; not only have they been found to be the largest unregulated source of mercury pollution but they also emit more than 80 tons per year of lead, and more than 70 tons per year of arsenic.

For further information, contact:
Nat Mund, Sierra Club (202) 675-2397
Jared Saylor, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500, x235
Janea Scott, Environmental Defense (212) 505-2100
Lisa Swann, National Wildlife Federation (703) 438-6083
Jon Devine, NRDC (202) 289-6868
Ann Brewster Weeks, Clean Air Task Force (617) 624-0234
John Surrick, Chesapeake Bay Foundation (443) 482-2045
Scott Edwards, Waterkeeper Alliance (914) 674-0622, x203


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