Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Moving Forward on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

By Janet McCabe

Today, we are proposing a notice that supplements the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Specifically, we are proposing to find that including a consideration of cost does not change the agency’s determination that it is appropriate to regulate air toxics, including mercury, from power plants.

Power plants are the largest source of mercury in the United States. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage children’s developing nervous systems, reducing their ability to think and learn.  Three years ago, we issued MATS, which requires power plants to reduce their emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants as well, protecting Americans from a host of avoidable illnesses and premature death. All told, for every dollar spent to make these cuts, the public is receiving up to $9 in health benefits. The vast majority of power plants began making the pollution reductions needed to meet their MATS requirements in April of this year and the rest will begin doing so in April of 2016.

After MATS was issued, the federal Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the Supreme Court both upheld the standards in the face of a host of challenges – but in a narrow ruling the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA should have considered costs when determining whether to regulate toxic air emissions from the power sector.

With today’s proposal, we are addressing the Supreme Court’s decision: we have evaluated several relevant cost metrics, and we are proposing to find that taking consideration of cost into account does not alter our determination that is appropriate to set standards for toxic air emissions from power plants.

In the proposed supplemental finding, we considered the power industry’s ability to comply with MATS and maintain its ability to perform its primary and unique function – the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity—at reasonable costs to consumers. These analyses demonstrate that the costs and impacts of MATS are reasonable and that the power sector can cut mercury and other toxics while continuing to provide all Americans with affordable, reliable electricity. And with MATS still in place today, the steps that many plants across the country have already taken to reduce toxic air emissions and comply with the final standards show that the standards really are achievable.

For 45 years the Clean Air Act has been working to clean up the air that we breathe while our economy has grown. MATS is an important step in our progress towards cleaner air and healthier children, as today’s proposal confirms. We will be accepting comments for 45 days after the proposed supplemental notice is published in the Federal Register. A copy of the proposed notice and a fact sheet are available on our website. We look forward to hearing from you.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Asthma Awareness Month: Part I

By Elias Rodriguez

Growing up in New York City along with countless other children, I faced many of the environmental impacts of life in the gritty inner city. Poor air quality, few green spaces and litter were some of the downsides to life in the “City that Never Sleeps”. In grade school, it seemed like I always had one classmate or another who carried an asthma pump. May is Asthma Awareness Month and it’s important for parents and children to learn more about the disease and its triggers, so we can prevent asthma attacks and better protect our health and our children’s well being.

Pollution from vehicles, industrial and commercial facilities combine and cook in the hot stagnant air and form smog. Smoggy days are particularly hard on people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, as well as for children and the elderly.  Exposure to elevated ozone levels can cause serious breathing problems, aggravate asthma and other pre-existing lung diseases, and make people more susceptible to respiratory infections

The EPA is encouraging Americans to take action against asthma by learning more about the disease and how it affects their families and communities. Nearly 26 million Americans, including more than 7 million children, are affected by this chronic respiratory disease, with low income and minority populations at the highest rates. The annual economic costs of asthma, including direct medical costs from hospital stays and indirect costs such as lost school and work days, amount to approximately $56 billion.

In enforcing the Clean Air Act, EPA has helped prevent millions of asthma attacks across the country and continues to work alongside federal, state and local partners to address this nationwide problem. In 2010 alone, pollution prevention standards under the Clean Air Act lead to reductions in fine particle matter and ozone pollution that prevented more than 1.7 million incidences of asthma attacks. Recent standards, such as the 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, will further reduce air pollution and help prevent asthma attacks.

In my next blog, I’ll highlight some statistics that illustrate the City’s challenges when it comes to addressing asthma.

About the Author: Elias serves as EPA Region 2’s bilingual public information officer. Prior to joining EPA, the proud Nuyorican worked at Time Inc. conducting research for TIME, LIFE, FORTUNE and PEOPLE magazines. He is a graduate of Hunter College, Baruch College and the Theological Institute of the Assembly of Christian Churches in NYC.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Cutting Mercury and Protecting America's Children

by Administrator Lisa P. Jackson

From historic efforts to cut pollution from American automobiles to strong measures to prevent power plant pollution from crossing state lines, 2011 was already a banner year for clean air and the health of the American people. And the EPA is closing out the year with our biggest clean air protection yet.

Last week, we finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, a rule that will protect millions of families and, especially, children from air pollution. Before this rule, there were no national standards that limited the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases power plants across the country could release into the air we breathe. Mercury is a neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to children, and emissions of mercury and other air toxics have been linked to damage to developing nervous systems, respiratory illnesses and other diseases. MATS will require power plants to install emissions controls that will also reduce particle pollution, which has been linked to premature death and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

As a result, MATS will provide between $37 billion and $90 billion in health benefits for the American people. Once the rule is fully implemented in 2016, it will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 cases of aggravated asthma among children between six and 18 years old.

That last point is especially significant to me as a mother. I understand the importance of MATS in very profound ways, because both of my sons have struggled with asthma. Fifteen years ago, my youngest son spent his first Christmas in the hospital fighting to breathe. Like any parent of a child with asthma, I can tell you that the benefits of clean air protections like MATS are not just statistics and abstract concepts.

What we’re really talking about with all those numbers above are pregnant mothers who can rest a little easier knowing their children won’t be exposed to harmful levels of mercury in critical development stages. We are talking about reducing the levels of mercury in the fish that we and our kids eat every day. We are talking about future generations growing up healthier because there is less toxic pollution in the air they breathe.

Find out how MATS will protect health in your state.

What we’re also talking about with MATS are thousands of new opportunities for American workers. Not only will MATS provide health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, it will also support jobs and innovation for our economy.

To meet the MATS standards over the next several years, many power plants will have to upgrade their operations with modern and widely available pollution control technology. There are about 1,100 coal-fired units that are covered by MATS, and about 40 percent do not use advanced pollution controls to limit emissions. Increased demand for scrubbers and other advanced pollution controls will mean increased business for American companies that lead the way in producing pollution control technology.

But that’s just the start. Power plants making upgrades will need workers to build, install, operate and maintain the pollution controls. As the CEO of one of the largest coal-burning utilities in the country recently said about cutting emissions by installing pollution control technology, “Jobs are created in the process – no question about that.” The EPA estimates that the demands for workers will support 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term jobs.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution, provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, and support job creation and innovation that are good for our economy. Families across the country – including my own – will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air. That is what environmental protection and the work of the EPA is all about.

In this holiday season as we gather with our friends and families, Americans can take pride in the gift of clean air. Our children and future generations will have healthier air to breathe because of MATS and this historic year for clean air protection.

About the author: Lisa P. Jackson is the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Find out more about how MATS works:


Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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