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EPA proposes reversing Trump-era finding, reaffirming importance of regulating pollution from coal and oil-fired power plants

January 31, 2022 Work Area: Power Plants

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just released a proposal to reaffirm the finding under the Clean Air Act that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate emissions of very dangerous toxic air pollution emitted from coal- and oil-fired power plants, “a critical reversal of a Trump Administration decision which improperly gave little to no weight to the benefit of reducing the volume of and risks from HAP emissions from power plants to even the most exposed and most vulnerable members of the public,” according to Ann Weeks, Legal Director at Clean Air Task Force (CATF).

Although regulation of the industry was implemented through the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule by 2015, and significant emissions reductions have occurred without energy price or delivery disruptions, the Trump EPA had determined that regulation was not “appropriate,” considering costs. Today’s action by EPA proposes to revoke that finding and opens a 60-day period for public input.

The air toxics in question include mercury, other toxic metals, acid gases, and organics which can cause serious neurological disorders in children, are linked to cardiovascular effects, endocrine disruption, diabetes risk, and compromises to human immune systems, in addition to cancer, and severe respiratory effects.

Weeks continued:

“With this proposal, the Biden EPA is moving back to the far more defensible position, consistent with economic best practices, that all benefits should be included and considered when analyzing and evaluating regulations. The Trump EPA’s decision was driven by a skewed and incomplete analysis emphasizing the costs of regulation and giving very little discernible value to the benefits of reducing air toxics emissions associated with reduced incidence of respiratory disease, neurological damage, and cancers. The Trump EPA decision further declined to value the health benefits from reducing particulate matter due to reducing acid gas emissions. Those benefits include avoided heart attacks, asthma attacks, and premature mortality.”

“EPA must move expeditiously on this proposal and restore the appropriate and necessary finding. The MATS rule to which it refers has resulted in significant air toxics reductions. Prior to its implementation, coal- and oil-fired power plants were responsible for half of U.S. emissions of mercury and more than 75 percent of acid gas emissions. In 2020, EPA estimated that coal- and oil-fired power plant emissions of mercury had fallen by 86 percent and acid gases by 96 percent due to the MATS rule.”

Today’s announcement is significant not only because it further supports the MATS rule, but because current data show the potential for additional reductions of these health-harming pollutants. Reinstating the appropriateness finding enables EPA to move forward to a reconsideration of whether MATS should be strengthened, and EPA notes in the proposal that it seeks comment on this aspect of the issue. A cleaner power sector is particularly important to communities that experience disproportionate impacts from air pollution, and further progress will help to achieve EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment generally as well.


Press Contact:

Stuart Ross, Communications Director, sross@catf.us

About Clean Air Task Force

Clean Air Task Force (CATF) is a non-profit organization working to safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid global development and deployment of low-carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies. We work towards these objectives through research and analysis, public advocacy leadership, and partnership with the private sector. With nearly 25 years of nationally and internationally recognized expertise on clean air policy and regulations and a fierce commitment to fully exploring all potential solutions. CATF is headquartered in Boston, with staff working virtually around the U.S. and abroad.

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