Under the Cover of COVID-19, Trump’s EPA OKs More Mercury Air Pollution

EPA is making MATS rule vulnerable to court challenges


Erin Fitzgerald, Earthjustice, (415) 283-2323

Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized their plan to gut the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which regulates toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants. Since MATS was put in place in 2011, it drastically reduced mercury and other air pollutants, which are linked to breathing illnesses, heart disease, and cancer, among other health impacts. It is estimated that MATS has saved as many as 11,000 lives each year.

The announcement comes as the country is reeling from the global coronavirus pandemic, a respiratory illness that’s caused more than 20,000 deaths in the United States. This month, a Harvard study using air quality data from 3,080 counties found that people with COVID-19 who live in areas with high level of air pollution are more likely to die from the disease. What’s more, even a small decrease to long-term exposure to particulate matter in the air was associated with significantly lower risks of fatality from the virus.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, is withdrawing the findings that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate these power plants’ hazardous emissions by using a new cost-benefit analysis with “deep flaws,” according to economists. Erasing a science-based cost-benefit analysis puts communities at risk at a time when they need the most protection from harmful air pollution.

“Administrator Wheeler chose to put the lives and health of people living in the United States at risk. A former coal lobbyist, Wheeler found it was not ’appropriate’ for EPA to have issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, even though mercury harms children’s developing brains,” said Earthjustice attorney James Pew, who has led the 20-year battle to establish the regulations. “This deeply irresponsible finding seeks to sabotage the rules by inviting court challenges from Wheeler’s former clients, and the Trump administration’s donors and allies. If the sabotage succeeds, people throughout the U.S. will die unnecessarily each year, literally wheezing, gasping for air, and choking to death.”

EPA’s own analysis underscores the public health benefits of air pollution regulations. These protections become more crucial to saving lives during pandemics such as the COVID-19, as the Harvard study shows.

Earthjustice is planning to sue in response to this attack.

Lea la versión de este comunicado en español.

More Resources:

  • Read the Earthjustice special report for more on the history and impact of MATS.
  • Read an explainer of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.
Marti Blake watched the Cheswick Generating Station from her home in Springdale, PA.
Marti Blake watched the Cheswick Generating Station from her home in Springdale, PA. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

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