Five professional medical societies and public health groups took legal action March 16 to support public health safeguards contained in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) that reduce mercury and toxic air pollution from power plants.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association and Physicians for Social Responsibility, represented by the Southern Environmental Law Center, filed a motion to intervene in support of the MATS rule, which was issued this past December. The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) announced the intervention on March 16.
These groups acted to support EPA limits on toxic emissions from the 600 coal- and oil-fired power plants in more than 40 U.S. states. Not only are these power plants the largest producers of mercury pollution, they emit more than 80 of the 187 hazardous pollutants identified for control by the Clean Air Act, SELC noted.
“The dangerous health risks associated with coal-burning power plants are no longer elusive, distant threats,” said Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “Blocking these standards could mean the difference between a chronic debilitating, expensive illness or healthy life for hundreds of thousands of American children and adults.”
Companies affected by MATS have filed challenges at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The five groups intervened so they could fight those appeals on the side of EPA. These five groups support the standards because of the expected public health benefits that will begin once the controls are in place. The EPA estimates that cleaning up these emissions will provide $3 to $9 in healthcare and economic benefits for every $1 spent on clean up, SELC said.
“Protecting American lives and the health of our children from toxic mercury and other hazardous air pollution is a core Clean Air Act requirement that cannot be delayed further by politics and polluter profit margins,” said John Suttles, the SELC attorney representing the five health groups. “Defending national limits on toxic emissions from big polluters promotes our clients’ commitment to protecting the health of American families—from vulnerable newborns to senior citizens.”
Also on March 16, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said her office is also helping to defend the MATS rule. Eleven other states, along with the District of Columbia and New York City, joined in Coakley’s motion that day to intervene, including Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
“These EPA standards are an important step to protect children and others from exposure to toxic forms of mercury,” Coakley said. “While Massachusetts has been a leader in reducing mercury emissions, we cannot control sources of pollution that are outside our borders. We believe these EPA standards are essential to protect public health both in our state and every state.”
In February, the EPA issued the MATS rule in direct response to an order from the same federal appeals court in 2008. The court ruled that EPA’s decision in 2000 to allow electricity generating plants to avoid regulation of mercury and other toxic emissions under the Clean Air Act was invalid. MATS allows existing sources three years to comply, with up to two additional years allowed in certain special cases.
Organizations including White Stallion Energy Center LLC, the developer of a proposed Texas coal plant, and the National Mining Association, which represents coal producers, filed in February petitions for review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which have been consolidated. Petitioners have not yet identified the specific issues they intend to raise.