EPA Reaffirms Scientific, Economic, and Legal Underpinnings of Limits on Toxic Emissions
Action Would Ensure Continued Protection for Children and Vulnerable Communities
WASHINGTON (Jan. 31, 2022) – Today, EPA is proposing to reaffirm the scientific, economic, and legal underpinnings of the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants, which require significant reductions of mercury, acid gases, and other harmful pollutants. Controlling these emissions improves public health for all Americans by reducing fatal heart attacks, reducing cancer risks, avoiding neurodevelopmental delays in children, and helping to restore certain ecosystem functions that people and businesses value. These public health improvements are especially important for children and particularly vulnerable segments of the population such as Indigenous communities, low-income communities, and people of color who live near power plants or are affected by hazardous air pollution. The proposal, which responds to President Biden’s January 20, 2021, Executive Order 13990, “Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis,” would reverse a rule issued by the previous administration in May 2020, which undermined the legal basis for these vital health protections.
“Sound science makes it clear that we need to limit mercury and toxins in the air to protect children and vulnerable communities from dangerous pollution,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “EPA is committed to aggressively reducing pollution from the power sector so that all people, regardless of zip code or amount of money in their pocket, can breathe clean air and live healthy and productive lives.”
The proposal would leave the current emissions standards unchanged but would ensure the continuation of public health protections provided by these requirements, while seeking information from the public on opportunities for additional pollution reductions. Taking account of the burden that hazardous air pollutants including mercury impose on public health as well as the costs of controlling these emissions, EPA proposes to find that it is appropriate and necessary to regulate emissions of air toxics from power plants under the Clean Air Act.
The MATS, combined with advancements in the power sector, have driven sharp reductions in harmful pollutants. EPA has estimated that by 2017, mercury emissions from power plants were reduced by 86 percent, acid gas emissions were reduced by 96 percent, and non-mercury metal emissions were reduced by 81 percent compared to pre-MATS levels in 2010.
Prior to the MATS, power plants were the largest domestic source of mercury and other toxic pollutants such as hydrogen chloride and selenium. They were also among the largest domestic contributors of arsenic, chromium, cobalt, nickel, hydrogen cyanide, beryllium, and cadmium.
The initial appropriate and necessary finding was made in 2000 and affirmed in 2012 and 2016. In May 2020, the previous administration reversed EPA’s 2016 finding, undermining the legal basis for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. President Biden’s Executive Order 13990 directed EPA to review that finding and consider an action to rescind it. In today’s action, EPA proposes to find that the 2020 action was 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. Based on a thorough review of these benefits, the reasonable costs of controls, and other relevant factors, EPA is proposing to reaffirm that it is appropriate and necessary to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants.
The agency is also continuing to consider the MATS Risk and Technology Review, as directed by Executive Order 13990, to determine whether more stringent protections for hazardous air pollution from power plants are feasible and warranted. To support that review, EPA is soliciting information on the performance and cost of new or improved technologies or methods of operation to control hazardous air pollution emissions, as well as risk-related information, as a part of this proposal.
EPA will accept comment on the proposal for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. The agency also plans to hold a virtual public hearing. Details about the hearing will be announced online in the coming weeks.