Attorney General Aaron Ford Joins Multistate Coalition Calling on EPA to Withdraw Proposal to Undermine Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

April 18, 2019

Carson City, NV – Today, Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw its unlawful proposal to reverse the agency’s determination—first made nearly 20 years ago—that it is “appropriate and necessary” under the federal Clean Air Act to regulate mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal plants. If finalized, the proposal would seriously undermine the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), a landmark rule to reduce air pollutants that pose significant health risks, especially to children and pregnant women. AG Ford is joined by a coalition of 25 states, counties and cities in this action.

    In comments filed with EPA Wednesday, the coalition argues that the agency’s proposal is unlawful, lacks a reasoned basis and is a serious threat to public health. The coalition argues that the EPA has stated that regulation is appropriate and necessary no less than three times, and that the EPA does not have authority to reverse that finding. The agency’s proposal seeks to undermine MATS even though power plants have been complying with finalized standards since 2015.

      “Mercury poses serious danger to public health and has especially adverse effects on pregnant women, children, and wildlife,” said AG Ford. “I’m proud to submit my concerns to the EPA on behalf of the safety and well-being of all Nevada families.”

        The MATS Rule represents the culmination of more than two decades of study and rulemaking by the EPA, and was triggered by Congress's 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. In 2000, the EPA determined that it was "appropriate and necessary" to regulate hazardous pollutants emitted from fossil-fuel-fired plants, including mercury, acid gases and other toxic metals, which are harmful to human and wildlife health. The agency found that fossil-fuel-fired power plants are the country's largest source of hazardous air pollution, and that other existing provisions of the Clean Air Act would not
        adequately address those dangerous emissions. The EPA reaffirmed that finding in 2012, relying on a growing body of scientific evidence.

          In 2016, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Michigan v. EPA, the EPA issued a supplemental finding reaffirming again that it is “appropriate” to regulate power plant emissions when the costs of regulation are considered. Today’s comments argue that the EPA has ignored the actual costs and benefits of reducing power plant air pollution and is relying on stale, inaccurate information to build a case against MATS. Overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that the MATS Rule creates great positive value for human health and the environment compared to the costs of compliance.

            Airborne mercury from power plants falls back to earth, where it is converted into methylmercury, a potent neurotoxin that accumulates in the food chain, particularly in fish. A child exposed to methylmercury consumed by her mother during pregnancy can suffer lifelong adverse developmental effects including impaired attention, fine motor function, visual-spatial abilities and verbal memory. Mercury exposure is also linked to an increased risk of diabetes, autoimmune dysfunction, and cardiovascular issues in adults.

              Power-plant mercury emissions are a major contributor to mercury contamination of U.S. waterways, which, as of 2011, necessitated fish consumption advisories in all 50 States. Mercury pollution in lakes and rivers hurts local fishing economies and deprives residents across the country of the ability to enjoy recreational fishing and commercially harvested seafood.

                The coalition argues that industry is in full compliance with the MATS Rule, which is providing enormous health, environmental, and economic benefits to the residents of their states and local governments—and at a fraction of the predicted cost. The comments outline the fact that “Research confirms the MATS Rule saves tens of thousands of people from premature death each year.” A 2016 study projected that the total economy-wide benefits associated with mercury reductions under the MATS Rule through 2050 would amount to at least $43 billion. The EPA now proposes to change course despite these benefits and over the strenuous objection of the electric power sector, which has made significant investments to comply with the Rule.

                  In addition to Nevada, other states, counties and cities participating in the comment letter include: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New Mexico, New York North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the City Solicitor of Baltimore; the Corporation Counsels of Chicago and New York City; and the County Attorneys of Erie County, NY and the County Counsel for the County of Santa Clara, CA.