Senator Carper, Former EPA Administrator McCarthy, and APHA Head Dr. Benjamin Emphasize Need to Protect the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to Safeguard Americans' Health

Panel highlights success and health benefits of standards to date & broad opposition to EPA proposal to undermine standards

Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper representing the state of Delaware, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, and the Executive Director of the American Public Health Association Dr. Georges C. Benjamin joined American Lung Association Chief Mission Officer Deborah Brown for a panel discussion at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on the importance of maintaining the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The White House Office of Management and Budget is currently reviewing an EPA rule that would undermine these lifesaving standards.   

When EPA adopted the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in 2011, the agency estimated that the standards would prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks, and 5,700 hospital visits annually. 

The panel, co-sponsored by the American Lung Association and several national health organizations and universities (below), discussed the success of the standards to date, including significantly reducing mercury emissions from power plants and cleaning up dangerous particle pollution at the same time. 

"Mercury pollution limits have been a success story for the economy and for public health. An 89 percent reduction in the brain-damaging and life-threatening impacts of mercury has improved health outcomes for millions of kids, and it was accomplished without threats to reliable supplies of electricity or to affordable consumer prices," said Gina McCarthy, former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator and Director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. "This administration’s effort to roll back protections from dangerous pollutants is a failure of leadership that undermines science and puts political rhetoric and partisanship ahead of the benefit of all Americans."

Mercury exposure causes permanent damage to the brains of babies and unborn children, leading to developmental delays, learning disabilities and birth defects. Vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, older adults and people with existing health issues face higher risk from these pollutants. In addition to mercury, coal- and oil-fired power plants emit other toxic air pollutants that are harmful to Americans’ health. 


“The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards have been a true public health success in cleaning up mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants," said Dr. Georges C. Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association. “The tremendous health benefits of these standards cannot be overstated. We cannot afford to undermine these critical standards that are protecting our children and other vulnerable populations from this dangerous pollution.”

The panel also noted widespread support for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards since their adoption in 2011. Electric utilities, members of Congress including senators from both parties, leading national health organizations and hundreds of thousands of individuals have urged EPA to maintain the current standards. 

The standards are also already fully implemented. Power plants have finished making investments to reduce the amount of pollution they are emitting in order to meet the standards, including installing pollution controls now in operation.

Despite the significant benefits and full implementation, EPA issued a proposal in December 2018 to undermine the standards, putting the health of Americans at risk. The proposal would overturn the “appropriate and necessary” finding, claiming that the costs of regulating mercury and other toxic pollutants outweigh the benefits. 

The move goes against EPA’s previous reviews of the necessary data in 2010 and 2016, which both determined that it was indeed “appropriate and necessary” to regulate dangerous mercury and toxic air pollution. EPA’s current proposal would ignore the thousands of lives saved every year from reductions in particulate matter that have occurred alongside reductions in mercury and other toxic pollutants under the standards. As a result, EPA’s latest analysis is skewed.

Harvard University recently found that mercury from power plants threatens Americans’ health more than previously thought, making the benefits of reduction much greater. 

“Everything we know about the dangers of mercury and air toxics begs the question why this EPA is moving forward with a risky proposal that it is no longer ‘appropriate and necessary’ to protect the public from the historically largest sources of mercury and air toxic emissions,” said Senator Tom Carper, ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “The answer is plain and simple: by gutting the legal foundation for MATS, EPA is opening the door for lawsuits to kill MATS in the future.” 

Co-sponsors for the panel event included the American Lung Association; Harvard University’s Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment; American University; American Academy of Pediatrics; American Public Health Association; and Children’s Environmental Health Network.

A full video of the panel discussion can be found here. To request an interview on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and the proposed rule to undermine them with a health or policy expert, contact Alexandria Trimble ([email protected]).  

For more information, contact:

Elizabeth Cook
[email protected]

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