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Who Exactly Benefits from Undermining Mercury and Air Toxics Standards?

Mar 19, 2019

On Monday, LCV Vice President of Government Affairs Sara Chieffo testified before the EPA about the administration’s plan to rollback our life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.  As Chieffo pointed out in her testimony, neurotoxins like mercury are linked to brain damage, nervous system problems, and to fetal development issues. The administration’s attempt to undermine the standards blatantly puts people’s health at risk, especially communities of color, who are exposed to air pollution at higher rates than their white peers.  This is unacceptable.

So, when Chieffo sat before the EPA, she posed a question that needed to be asked: Who exactly is benefiting from the proposed changes to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards?

As she explains, it’s not moms and kids.  It’s not workers and parents. It’s not even the power sector that has already complied with the standards. It’s the country’s largest coal mining company that has called for these damaging changes.

Read Chieffo’s full testimony below:


Sara Chieffo, VP Government Affairs, LCV

March 18, 2019

Proposed Revised Supplemental Finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and

Results of the Residual Risk and Technology Review

My name is Sara Chieffo, and I’m here today as a concerned mom and as the vice president of Government Affairs at the League of Conservation Voters (LCV). LCV has more than 2 million members spread across the country, and we work closely with a network of 30 state partners. At LCV, we believe everyone has a right to clean air, water, lands and a safe, healthy community.

The EPA’s proposed revision to the existing Mercury and Air Toxics Standards stands in direct conflict with LCV’s core values and, indeed, the mission of the EPA to protect our health and our environment.

I was lucky enough to be at Children’s National Hospital at the end of 2011 when then EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson unveiled these life-saving clean air protections. These long overdue rules were roughly 20 years in the making and were the first to set nationwide limits on mercury emissions from coal and oil-fired power plants. The EPA projected that these critical health standards would annually avoid up to 11,000 premature deaths; nearly 5,000 heart attacks; 130,000 asthma attacks; and 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits.

Mercury is a powerful neurotoxin linked with damage to the brain, to the nervous system, and to fetal development. Mercury pollution causes permanent damage to the brains of babies and developing fetuses, leading to developmental delays, learning disabilities, and birth defects. Studies conducted by the EPA before the mercury pollution protections were enacted found that one in six babies born in the U.S. had unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies.

Back in 2011, I hadn’t yet welcomed my two daughters into this world, and I didn’t fully grasp then how wildly successful these standards would be in protecting me and them from exposure to mercury and other heavy metals. Between 2011 and 2017, thanks in large part to the standards that the EPA is now proposing to undermine, mercury pollution declined by more than 81 percent nationwide, according to the agency’s own Toxics Release Inventory Program.

Undermining federal mercury pollution safeguards is a huge step backwards. It is unacceptable that, if successful, these rollbacks will have disproportionate and severe health impacts, especially for communities of color, who are already more likely to be exposed to dangerous air pollution at higher rates. A staggering sixty-eight percent of African Americans — and 2 in 5 Latinos — live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. The EPA’s own scientists recognize the health burden of pollution on African American communities is 54 percent higher than the health burden on the American population overall. And compared to white children, Latino children are twice as likely to die from asthma attacks, while African American kids are 10 times more likely.

The power sector has already complied with these standards and are opposed to the proposed revisions. Industry has invested more than $18 billion dollars to protect people against mercury, soot, and other hazardous pollution. In a letter to the EPA, associations representing the industry urged the agency to “leave the underlying MATS rule in place and effective.”

So, who exactly is benefiting from the proposed changes to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards?

It isn’t moms and kids who are no longer being exposed to unsafe levels of mercury and other heavy metals. It isn’t the individuals and families who have reduced risk of heart attacks and premature death. It isn’t the workers and parents who have fewer missed days at school or work due to asthma attacks. It isn’t the power sector that has already complied with the standards and doesn’t want the rules changed.

Who then benefits from these proposed changes? The plain fact is that only a few of our nation’s biggest coal barons, including Murray Energy, the county’s largest coal mining company and a former client of EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s have called for these damaging changes.

I strongly encourage the EPA to drop this dangerous proposal, reinstate the original rule, and get back to its core mission of protecting our health and our environment.

Thank you for this opportunity to offer a comment.