Environmental Defense Fund urges EPA to update mercury, toxics standards

Published on June 28, 2023 by Dave Kovaleski

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The Environmental Defense Fund is urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to finalize its proposal to strengthen the U.S. Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

In April, the EPA unveiled its proposal to modernize Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in April, which called for stronger pollution limits and more monitoring for toxic air pollution released by coal-fired power plants.

It also proposed more stringent control of non-mercury metal toxics, and the removal of the lignite coal loophole. Currently, power plants burning lignite coal are subject to a loophole that allows them to meet a much weaker mercury standard. Under the proposal, lignite plants would be required to meet the same mercury emissions standard as coal plants.

“Strong clean air standards are vital for safeguarding the health of all people from the mercury and other toxic pollutants discharged from coal plant smokestacks,” EDF Clean Air Legal Fellow Richard Yates said. “In the Clean Air Act, Congress specifically requires EPA to set standards for these especially dangerous pollutants that reflect the maximum achievable reductions. EPA’s adoption of strengthened Mercury and Air Toxics Standards would keep people and communities safer from coal plant smokestack pollution by requiring protective limits and rigorous monitoring that reflect modern technologies.”

While the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have slashed levels of these pollutants since EPA first adopted them in 2012, many coal plants are still emitting high levels of toxic pollution. It has been a decade since EPA last updated the standards.

EDF officials, along with a coalition of groups, filed a comment letter with the EPA in support of the updated standards.

“The 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards … have proven to be one of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s greatest success stories. Under this rule, emissions of mercury, toxic metals, and acid gases from the electric power sector have declined dramatically while compliance costs have remained far below projected levels,” the groups say in their comments. They add that “in the intervening years, control measures have improved beyond what was known at the time: better-than-expected removal capabilities, lower costs, and enhanced materials and control techniques have all unlocked further reductions in harmful emissions from coal-fired [plants]. EPA has a statutory obligation to secure the cleaner air now available,” the letter said.

The coalition includes EDF, Air Alliance Houston, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Clean Air Council, Clean Air Task Force, Clean Wisconsin, Downwinders at Risk, Earthjustice, Environmental Integrity Project, Environmental Law & Policy Center, Montana Environmental Information Center, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and Southern Environmental Law Center.