Weak EPA Plan to Evade Mercury Cuts for Power Plants Heads to Court
Proposed rules delay clean up from the nation's biggest mercury polluters well beyond 2020
James Pew, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500
Fourteen states and dozens of Native American tribes, public health and environmental groups, and organizations representing registered nurses and physicians appeared in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia today seeking to overturn Bush administration proposals that evade legally required cuts in mercury pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants. The broad coalition called for the complete reversal of a suite of Environmental Protection Agency rules, including the so-called “Clean Air Mercury Rule,” which allows dangerously high levels of mercury pollution to persist under a weak cap-and-trade program that would not take full effect until well beyond 2020.
The states challenging this EPA rule are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Wisconsin.
The following joint statement can be attributed to Earthjustice and the American Nurses Association; the American Public Health Association; Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Clean Air Task Force; Conservation Law Foundation; Environment America (formerly US PIRG); Environmental Defense; National Wildlife Federation; Natural Resources Council of Maine; Natural Resources Defense Council; Ohio Environmental Council; Physicians for Social Responsibility; Sierra Club; and Waterkeeper Alliance:
“These rules are simply illegal. Despite mercury pollution’s significant impacts on human health and the environment, EPA has ignored science, law and human health in allowing coal-fired power plants to churn out dangerous mercury levels. Rather than applying the toughest standards of the Clean Air Act, EPA has proposed an ineffective mercury trading scheme that delays implementation of modern pollution controls for years. EPA has created an illegal loophole for the power generating industry that allows for dangerous emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants now and into the future.
“Power plants spew 48 tons of mercury into the air each year, yet a mere 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury per year is enough to contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point that fish are unsafe to eat. EPA estimates that as many as 600,000 babies may be born annually with irreversible brain damage because pregnant mothers ate mercury-contaminated fish. Mercury risks also include delayed developmental milestones, reduced neurological test scores, and cardiovascular disease. Nearly one-third (32 percent) of America’s lakes and nearly one-fourth (24 percent) of our rivers were subject to advisories for mercury contamination in 2003.
“Congress recognized the importance of cleaning up the nation’s polluting coal-fired power plants when it passed clean air protections, but the EPA has repeatedly failed to carry out the law and follow the science in protecting human health and the environment from mercury pollution. In this instance, EPA has finalized a plan first drafted by industry attorneys that violates the law and fails to protect human health. We are grateful to have had our day in court to demonstrate EPA’s failure to adopt protective mercury emission standards for coal plants as required by law.”
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