After the Environmental Protection Agency’s decade-long quest to implement needed standards for cleaner air and save Americans from the ill effects of mercury poisoning and other toxins, the EPA’s rules are under attack in the U.S. Senate.
Last December the EPA put Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) into practice, requiring coal and oil plants nationwide to filter their smokestacks from releasing harmful pollutants like mercury, lead, arsenic and acid gases into the already smoggy atmosphere. The standards piggyback off the Clean Air Act and its National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma is expected to bring his Congressional Review Act to a vote this week. A simple majority in favor of the resolution would not only overturn MATS, but also block the EPA from passing similar standards in the future.
Sen. Inhofe, who has 29 senators backing his strategy, argues that the standards will close coal plants, harm the economy and jeopardize power reliability. Yet those pro-business arguments fall flat when you consider the technology jobs that would be created to clean up the mess left by coal power plants.
Coal-fired smokestacks are the largest polluter of mercury, which poses a potential threat to pregnant women and children who consume fish containing unregulated mercury that falls from the air into waterways. Mercury has been found to cause severe learning disabilities, developmental problems and lower IQ.
MATS standards include numerical emission limits for pollutants, revised definitions of coal subcategories and improved monitoring to avoid emissions slip ups.
Sen. Inhofe’s strike against the rules overlooks the health and economic benefits at stake: The EPA estimates that the standards will provide 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term jobs to control the pollution filters. The technologies that contribute to a cleaner air supply are products of American-based companies — big pluses for a struggling economy.
Companies have four years and some leeway to comply with the standards, which should be sufficient time to reach clean-air goals. Implementing the standards will cost $9.6 billion, but healthcare savings are substantial: $37 billion to $90 billion a year, the EPA notes.
More than 90 percent of mercury emissions would be cut from power plants, sparing up to 11,000 premature deaths nationwide, 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits and 540,000 days when people miss school and work — lives, time and money that are needlessly lost.
In Florida, home to 26 oil and coal power plants, the MATS restrictions can prevent 730 premature deaths and rack up $6 billion in health benefits.
The MATS standards, created to be flexible to clean up coal-burning smokestacks, are the first federally mandated limits on power plants’ emissions. They’re long overdue.
As the American Lung Association points out, “The Clean Air Act required the EPA to address toxic air pollution from power plants in 1990. It has taken over 20 years to get to this point.”
Everyone loses when we sacrifice our lungs, lives and wallets to ignore well-documented health risks of mercury and other toxins spewed by power plants.