The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday reiterated the basis for a rule requiring “significant reductions” in mercury and other harmful pollutants from power plants, reversing a late move in former President Donald Trump’s administration to roll back emissions standards. back.
The EPA said it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate toxic air pollution emissions under the Clean Air Act, setting the stage for protections enacted when President Barack Obama’s EPA issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.
“For years, Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have protected the health of American communities across the country, especially children, low-income communities, and communities of color who often and disproportionately live near power plants,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “This result ensures the continuation of these vital, lifesaving protections while furthering President Biden’s commitment to making science-based decisions and protecting the health and well-being of all people and communities.”
The move coincides with an increased push by the EPA under President Joe Biden to restore numerous federal environmental protections that the Trump administration rolled back, such as reinstating strict environmental reviews for infrastructure projects. large, protecting thousands of waterways and conserving endangered species.
Coal-fired power plants are the single largest source of mercury pollutants, which enter the food chain through fish and other items that people eat. Mercury can affect the nervous system and kidneys; The World Health Organization states that a fetus is particularly at risk of birth defects through exposure in the mother’s womb.
“Most of the concern is brain development in young children … and also (there are) effects on adults that contribute to heart attacks. It’s a very toxic substance,” Charles T. Driscoll, environmental scientist at Syracuse University who studies mercury. pollution, said.
Public health professionals and environmentalists praised the reform of the Obama-era rule, saying it protects Americans, especially children, from some of the most dangerous forms of air pollution. But many also said the administration could go further by demanding even greater reductions in toxic air pollution from power plants.
“Maintaining these protections is a critical step; we now urge the EPA to strengthen them. We need stronger standards to protect all communities from these pollutants, especially those who live near power plants,” said Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.
Michael Panfil, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, also urged the Biden administration to strengthen the protections, but said reforming the rule “should be a relief to all Americans.”
Most coal-fired power plants have already completed upgrades to their facilities that were required when the regulation first took effect in 2012. The Edison Electric Institute, a lobbying group that represents investor-owned electric companies, thanks to the EPA for reforming the rule.
“EEI member companies, and the electric power industry combined, have invested more than $18 billion to install pollution control technologies to meet these standards,” said Tom Kuhn, president of the lobbying firm, in a statement. “Since 2010, our industry has reduced its mercury emissions by more than 91 percent, and we’ve seen a significant change in our nation’s energy mix, which is getting cleaner and cleaner every day.”
Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the announcement determines whether the EPA should regulate mercury and other toxic air pollution.
“When the previous administration chose to remove the legal basis for the MATS rule, they ignored the irrefutable science of the devastating effects of mercury on children’s health,” Carper said.
But Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the Republican ranking committee, warned that the rule is part of Biden’s goal “to shut down America’s coal plants.”
“We have experienced the damage these regulations have done across the country, including in West Virginia,” Capito said.
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