The State of Texas and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) are once again fighting against clean air rules that will save Texans’ lives. This time, it is the first-ever standards limiting the amount of mercury and other toxics power plants can emit. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) will ensure that 90 percent of the mercury content in coal burned by power plants is not released into our air. Given that power plants are responsible for half of all mercury emissions in the U.S., these reductions will be a substantial protection in keeping our air, waterways, and fish from toxic mercury pollution.
TCEQ, the Texas attorney general, and others are challenging the standards in court, saying that the toxic pollutants covered by the mercury standards do not "pose public health hazards.” The reality is that power plants in the U.S. are a major source of many toxics such as mercury (50 percent), arsenic (62 percent), chromium (22 percent), acid gas (77 percent), and nickel (28 percent). These pollutants are linked to cancer, neurological and development impairments, and many other harmful health and environmental impacts. Other sectors have cleaned up their toxic pollution and now it is time for power plants to do the same.
A report EDF released last year demonstrated that Texas had an oversized share of the top mercury emitting coal plants in the U.S. in 2009. Contaminated water bodies and, subsequently, food fish sources, as shown below, illustrate the legacy of mercury pollution in and around Texas.
Leaders in Texas and TCEQ are misguided in their attempt to upend these life-saving standards, which will prevent up to 11,000 deaths each year. Up to 1,200 of the deaths prevented will be in Texas, and Texas stands to benefit the most in terms of avoided premature deaths among all the states. The monetized value of the health benefits from these regulations is estimated at between four and ten billion every year beginning in 2016.
Public health interests, some power companies, and, and other stakeholders support MATS and have intervened in support of it in the Courts. Among them is Texas’ own Austin Energy. The Lower Colorado River Authority has also indicated it is “well-positioned” to comply. We need TCEQ and the state of Texas to stand up to harmful pollution instead of standing in the way of public health protections.