Biden’s EPA Restores Rule Protecting Vulnerable Communities From Mercury and Other Toxic Power Plant Emissions
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reaffirmed the legal, scientific and economic bases of the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) that require coal– and oil-fired power plants to implement “significant reductions” in emissions of mercury, acid gases and other toxic pollutants, a press release from the EPA said. The decision reverses the rollback of the regulations under the administration of former President Donald Trump, reported The Associated Press.
The press release said keeping the toxic emissions under control protects the environment, reduces cancer risks and fatal heart attacks and avoids neurodevelopmental delays in children. The protections are particularly important for those exposed to air pollution, including children and those who are especially vulnerable like Indigenous and low-income communities and people of color living near power plants.
“For years, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have protected the health of American communities nationwide, especially children, low-income communities, and communities of color who often and unjustly live near power plants,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in the press release. “This finding ensures the continuation of these critical, life-saving protections while advancing President Biden’s commitment to making science-based decisions and protecting the health and wellbeing of all people and all communities.”
The EPA found that the regulation of air toxins emitted by power plants under the Clean Air Act was “appropriate and necessary,” the press release said. The current emissions standards were left unchanged by the final ruling.
In 2020, the Trump administration reversed the last appropriate and necessary finding made in 2016. The latest decision by the EPA found the 2020 action to have been “based on a fundamentally flawed interpretation of the Clean Air Act that improperly ignored or undervalued vital health benefits from reducing hazardous air pollution from power plants,” the press release said.
In determining if stricter regulations for toxic air pollution from power plants are “feasible and warranted,” the EPA is giving ongoing consideration to the MATS Risk and Technology Review, as directed by President Joe Biden’s Executive Order 13990, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis.”
Harmful pollutants have been sharply reduced by the implementation of the MATS and power sector advancements. According to EPA estimates, by 2017 there was an estimated 86 percent reduction in mercury emissions from power plants, a 96 percent reduction in acid gas emissions and an 81 percent reduction in non-mercury metal emissions compared to 2010 pre-MATS levels.
A costs reassessment following the implementation of the MATS by the EPA found that the power sector would likely pay billions of dollars less to comply with the MATS than was originally estimated.
Before the MATS, coal- and oil-fired power plants were the biggest domestic sources of mercury, selenium and hydrogen chloride, as well as arsenic, cobalt, nickel, chromium, beryllium, hydrogen cyanide and cadmium.
Some in the power sector praised the restoration of the MATS, as many power plant operators had previously installed costly technology during the Obama administration in order to comply with the rule, The New York Times reported.
“EEI’s member companies, and the electric power industry collectively, have invested more than $18 billion to install pollution control technologies to meet these standards,” said President of the Edison Electric Institute Tom Kuhn, as reported by The New York Times. “With the appropriate and necessary finding restored, electric companies can remain focused on getting the energy we provide as clean as we can as fast as we can, while maintaining the reliability and affordability that our customers value.”
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