Groups Sue Trump’s EPA Over Rollback of Toxic Emissions Standards

Under the cover of COVID, EPA is putting thousands of lives at risk


Siham Zniber, Press Secretary, Earthjustice

Neil Gormley, Attorney, Earthjustice, (202) 797-5239

James Pew, Attorney, Earthjustice, (202) 745-5214

Brian Willis, Sierra Club

Lisa Caruso, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, (202) 746-2504

Katie Edwards, Clean Air Council

Today, civil rights and environmental organizations represented by Earthjustice sued Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency for gutting the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which regulate toxic emissions from coal- and oil-burning power plants. Since MATS took effect in 2015, it has reduced mercury and other air pollutants, which are linked to brain poisoning, breathing illnesses, heart disease, and cancer, among other health impacts that particularly affect children and communities of color. MATS is estimated to save as many as 11,000 lives each year. 

In April, despite unusually widespread opposition, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler — a former coal lobbyist — reversed the legal finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate power plants’ hazardous emissions, based on a new cost benefit analysis that economists say has “deep flaws.” The move weakened the rule’s legal foundation and invited court challenges from industry groups hostile to these protections. Coal company Westmoreland Mining Holdings quickly took the opportunity that Wheeler handed to them and went after MATS in court last month. Earthjustice clients are also intervening in Westmoreland’s lawsuit to stop coal barons in their tracks.

“Wheeler deceitfully created a bogus excuse for coal companies to challenge the MATS rule in court even though he knows the rule saves thousands of lives every year,” said Earthjustice attorney Neil Gormley. “If Wheeler’s giveaway to his former clients is successful, our children will be poisoned while we’re preoccupied with the pandemic. This corrupt attack on our communities is immoral and must be stopped.”

EPA’s own analysis underscores the public health benefits of air pollution regulations. Thanks to MATS mercury pollution has decreased by more than 81%.

“It’s just common sense to protect the most vulnerable populations from the highly toxic air pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants. The technology to keep people safe is being used today and it is affordable. Eliminating these basic protections is simply unconscionable,” said Anne Hedges, Deputy Director of the Montana Environmental Information Center.

“The Trump administration is needlessly jeopardizing standards that have advanced Bay cleanup efforts and protected the region’s most vulnerable children for years. We cannot allow this cynical move to undermine critical health and environmental protections that power plants are already meeting. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is proud to return to court with partners we’ve fought alongside since 2005 to make sure that does not happen,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation Staff Attorney Ariel Solaski.

“Given Andrew Wheeler’s long history as a coal lobbyist, it’s no surprise that his intent was to weaken the mercury standards and practically invite a coal company to then sue in court challenging the now-compromised rule,” said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Campaigns at the Sierra Club. “We will continue to defend these life-saving standards and defeat Wheeler’s continuing attempts to fudge numbers in order to justify throwing out other clean air and water safeguards.”

“The Trump administration’s efforts to gut clean air protections during a crisis of public health and justice is unconscionable,” said Anne Havemann, General Counsel at the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “This is an issue of environmental justice. Communities with higher air pollution rates face higher death rates from COVID-19, and Black and Brown residents of this country are dying from the virus at three times the rate of white Americans. Now is the time to increase protections, not gut them.”

“Pennsylvania’s coal plants are uniformly located in areas where at least 20% of the population lives below the poverty line, as seen here, qualifying them as Environmental Justice Areas. This completely unnecessary and dangerous rollback of public health standards would directly harm our most vulnerable populations,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council.

Earthjustice filed this lawsuit on behalf of Air Alliance Houston, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Clean Air Council, Downwinders at Risk, Montana Environmental Information Center, NAACP, and Sierra Club.

Read this Earthjustice report for more on the history and benefits of MATS. 

Read the legal document.

Coal-fired power plant
Coal-fired power plant (ansoncfit / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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