It’s rare to find an issue with strong bipartisan support these days, but one example is preserving the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) that save thousands of lives per year. The standards were adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 to reduce the emissions of more than 80 dangerous pollutants, including mercury, lead, and arsenic, from coal-fired and oil-fired power plants. However, the EPA recently proposed rolling back MATS, contradicting its own science by saying the rules are not “appropriate and necessary” under the Clean Air Act.
Given the proven deleterious effects of mercury and the other toxins, this misguided proposition is causing national concern. So, on May 21, the House Energy and Commerce Committee Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee held a hearing called: “Undermining Mercury Protections: EPA Endangers Human Health and the Environment.” Janet McCabe, former acting assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, testified that the recent proposal is contrary to EPA’s mission, which is to protect public health and the environment, and that it should not be finalized.
Mercury is one of the most persistent and dangerous pollutants that threatens our health and environment. According to the EPA, exposure to mercury can result in irreversible health conditions, and mercury emissions can travel thousands of miles in the atmosphere. Maine is known as the “tailpipe” of the nation because coal-fired power plants in the Midwest spew airborne particulates and emissions our way via prevailing winds. The contaminated air that blows into Maine is a key reason why we have the third-highest adult asthma rate in the country.
In addition, mercury does not remain in the atmosphere forever. Rainfall deposits the heavy metal back on the ground, then polluted runoff flows into our waterways. The Great Lakes are already seeing these effects; nearly 80 percent of lakes in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula are contaminated by mercury.
Of course, once our rivers, lakes and oceans are tainted, so are the fish and other marine life that live there. Maine and 32 other states have issued fish consumption advisories because of mercury contamination. Anyone who’s ever been pregnant will tell you that her doctor advised her to avoid eating too much seafood, because elevated mercury levels in fish can harm a developing fetus.
The greatest folly of the proposed MATS rollback is that very few people, if anyone, are asking for that to happen. Most industrial plants have already adopted the technology required by MATS. Since businesses have already spent the money to adhere to the standards, they have no incentive to want the rules reversed.
When the EPA held a public hearing on its proposed MATS rollback a few months ago, the American Lung Association, Moms Clean Air Force and Environment America were just a few of many people and groups who spoke out in opposition.
Next came the public comment period on the proposal. A total of 495,809 Americans submitted online or written comments to the EPA through April 17.
Here in Maine, our state Legislature unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution calling on the president to direct the EPA to drop its planned rollback of MATS. At the federal level, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins signed a bipartisan letter strongly opposing the EPA plan.
Those state and national lawmakers are doing the right thing for Maine. The rollbacks proposed by the EPA will harm public health, cause further environmental damage, and cost far more in the long run. We all want to live in a state and a nation that have clean air, clean water and healthy wildlife. We need to be united in our opposition to the MATS rollback for our health and the health of our environment.
Carissa Maurin is the state director of Environment Maine, a statewide, citizen-based advocacy group working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.