EPA Moves to Strengthen Protections Against Toxic Power Plant Air Pollution

The proposal strengthens a rule that has prevented between 4,200 and 11,000 premature deaths annually since 2016


Zahra Ahmad, zahmad@earthjustice.org, (517) 898-0924


The Environmental Protection Agency today proposed updates strengthening its Mercury and Air Toxics standards (MATS), which has already proven to be one of the agency’s most successful air pollution rules.

The agency proposed continuous emissions monitoring, which shows communities how much pollution is coming out of the power plants in their neighborhoods and whether those facilities are in compliance with the law. It also proposes stricter pollution limits for particulate matter and mercury, as well as the elimination of a regulatory loophole facilities use to exceed emission limits. This will require the dirtiest plants, which account for a disproportionate amount of power plants’ toxic pollution, to reduce their emissions.

Importantly, today’s proposal recognizes that an overwhelming majority of plants are already achieving even lower emission levels than the proposed limits require. This shows that far greater reductions in power plants’ toxic emissions are achievable. To safeguard public health and reduce the environmental injustice caused by previous administrations’ failure to require adequate controls on power plants’ pollution, EPA needs to do more. The Biden administration should finalize the strongest possible updates to these vital protections.

Before MATS was established in 2012 there were no federal limits on how much mercury and toxic air pollution power plants could emit into our communities. Since going into effect, the standards have worked to significantly reduce dangerous power plant emissions – mercury by more than 80% – and save up to 11,000 lives each year.

“We applaud the administration for proposing to strengthen the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants,” said Jim Pew, Earthjustice Director of Federal Clean Air Practice, D.C. “This proposal, if finalized, will reduce power plants’ emissions of some of the most dangerous and toxic air pollutants, such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and chromium. This pollution disproportionately harms lower-income households and communities of color. Continuous emissions monitoring is a big step in the right direction, and we hope EPA will adopt the same requirements for other polluting industries.”

Quotes from our clients:

“Downwinders at Risk is glad to see these much tighter PM pollution standards,” said Director of Downwinders at Risk Jim Schermbeck. “We’re especially happy to see the EPA cracking down on dirty lignite coal plants which have been significant sources of Dallas-Fort Worth smog for decades. Residents in states like Texas are depending on this administration to stand up for them in these life and death matters just as residents in the South depended on the Department of Justice to enforce basic civil rights in the 1960s.”

“Today, EPA proposed much-needed updates to strengthen protections against dangerous air pollution,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council. “This is an important step to reduce some of the most harmful air toxics, which impact our communities every day. It’s past time for polluters in Pennsylvania and across the nation to clean up their act. We encourage EPA to pass the strongest safeguards possible and to prioritize the protection of our most vulnerable residents, those living just miles from these polluters.”

“Communities across the country continue to suffer from the health effects of soot pollution produced by coal-fired power plants that refuse to use all available pollution controls,” said Executive Director of Air Alliance Houston Jennifer Hadayia. “Right here in Southeast Texas, we are home to one of the worst offenders: the W. A. Parish coal-fired power plant. This plant’s PM pollution causes 180 premature deaths every year. Through the EPA’s new rule, Parish will have to cut their PM emissions and they will be forced into honesty about exactly how much they are emitting through enhanced air monitoring. We commend the EPA for issuing this new rule in response to our lawsuit and to the needs of community members. It’s time that people are the priority over polluters.”

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