Climate 411

EDF, Allies Ask Court to Defend Historic Mercury Pollution Rules

The court battle over our historic and life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards has now taken another step forward.

A coalition of  21 states, three cities, 19 medical, environmental, and civil rights organizations, and a number of energy companies filed briefs with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new standards for toxic pollution from power plants.

Last week’s filings are the latest step in a decades-long effort to protect public health from burning coal and oil.

Here’s the history behind the long fight to clean up mercury and other toxic air pollution from power plants:

EPA first concluded in 2000 that regulating toxic pollutants, including mercury, from power plants is “appropriate and necessary.”

It was hardly a surprise. Power plants are responsible for half of the mercury pollution, two-thirds of the arsenic emissions, and three quarters of the acid gases emitted in America.

More than a decade of political maneuvering then passed before EPA finally issued the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in 2012.

The standards limit the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, hydrochloric acid, hydrofluoric acid, and other gases that can be spewed into the atmosphere when coal and oil are burned for power.

The standards provide public health benefits that outweigh costs by a factor of nearly nine to one. They also allow flexibility and time needed for the standards to be implemented in an orderly manner.

But in spite of the overwhelming benefits of the standards, and the widespread support for them, some utility interests sued to stop them.

EPA filed briefs in support of its rules at the end of January. The standards’ supporters – including EDF — also joined the effort to protect them in court.

Why are so many different entities willing to fight in court to protect the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards?

Here are some of their reasons, in their own words, from the court briefs.

The health impacts of toxic pollution from power plants are serious. More than 300,000 newborns face the risk of learning disabilities due to prenatal exposure to mercury. These health risks also fall unevenly:

The health damage caused by air toxics is borne disproportionately by communities of color and the poor. Members of these disadvantaged groups are exposed to more hazardous air pollutants than other Americans because they are more likely to live in close proximity to coal-fired power plants. Their health suffers as a result.

Because of the long delay in setting standards at the federal level, many states have set their own limits on mercury from power plants. But states can’t control the air pollution from beyond their borders, as they told the court in their brief:

While many states … have enacted controls on EGU mercury emissions, those controls cannot rein in emissions originating outside our state borders. EGU mercury emissions have continued to pollute our waters, making fish consumption unsafe for pregnant women and children, and making local fish advisories our last option to protect our residents.

We have the technology to limit toxic pollutants from power plants — but not every power plant is using it, as the industry supporters of the rule point out:

Less than two-thirds of EGUs have scrubbers, and fewer still have configured their scrubbers to remove hazardous pollutants … Furthermore, much of the control equipment installed in response to Title IV [Acid Rain Program] and other programs fails to reduce hazardous pollutants reliably because it is not operated consistently.

(You can find more details and read the briefs themselves on our website)

Opponents have argued that EPA provided insufficient process in its nearly 15-year effort to issue the MATS standards.

They also argue that regulation of toxic pollution from power plants isn’t appropriate or necessary.

EPA, EDF, and many other health, economic, and legal experts have strongly rebutted these arguments before – and now, the legal briefs they’ve filed do as well.

America has been hard at work limiting air pollution for more than forty years. We’ve made significant gains, and that progress has paid major benefits in terms of improved health and increased economic development.

EPA’s analysis found that Clean Air Act protections saved an estimated 160,000 lives between 1990 and 2012. By 2020, the economic value of those protections is expected to reach $2 trillion.

Another series of studies — An economic analysis of the benefits and costs of the Clean Air Act 1970 to 1990: Revised report of results and findings — found that U.S. GDP in 2010 was up to 1.5 percent higher because of the health-protective benefits of the Clean Air Act.

Limiting toxic pollution from power plants is one more example of just the type of environmental protection that works in everyone’s interest.

We’ll bring you updates on the court case as it goes forward.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health / Read 1 Response

Court Briefs Filed Today in Appeal of Life-Saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Today, attorneys for large power and coal companies will file briefs in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. challenging EPA’s new life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for coal- and oil-fired power plants.

These vital clean air standards will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma attacks each year, and bring health benefits as high as $90 billion per year starting in 2016.

The standards, which have already survived a challenge in Congress, were announced in December 2011. They are supported by the American Nurses Association, the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the NAACP, leading power companies, and the Consumers Union.

Our nation has been working towards reducing emissions of toxic mercury, acid gases, and heavy metals from power plants for over twenty years. While other sources of mercury emissions, such as municipal and hospital incinerators, have since reduced their emissions of mercury by over 90%, power plants continue to poison air, water, and food with nerve-damaging mercury.

We have the technology to protect the health of our children and our communities from toxic air pollution.

17 states have successfully established standards reducing toxic emissions from power plants — and our country is well positioned to provide the control technologies necessary while creating American jobs. Numerous power companies have indicated they can comply with the standards and many have lowered their estimated cost of compliance. A variety of independent studies have found that the standards will not harm electric reliability.

Power plants are responsible for the lion’s share of many toxic pollutants in the U.S., including 50% of all mercury pollution, 77% of acid gases, and 62% of arsenic. Protecting the standards that will clean up these dirty plants is essential for all of us.

EPA will file its brief in response on January 22, 2013, and the states, public health and environmental groups that support the rule, including EDF, will file their response on February 21, 2013.

We’ll be updating our site with the key filings from this case, so keep an eye on our webpage for updates.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Health, News, Policy / Comments are closed

Landmark Court Decision Promotes a Carbon-Smart Economy: Another Look at This Week’s Ruling on Climate Protections

By now, you’ve surely heard all about this week’s historic court decision upholding EPA’s efforts to reduce climate pollution.

I hope you also had a chance to read my colleague Steve Hamburg’s post about how the decision reaffirmed the value of science in public policy.

There is one aspect of the court’s ruling that we haven’t discussed much yet. That’s the Tailoring Rule, and its benefits for a carbon-smart economy.

The Tailoring Rule was one of the four measures that were challenged in court. (None of the four challenges prevailed. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissed the lawsuits against the Tailoring Rule).

The Tailoring Rule ensures smooth implementation of carbon regulations for large new (and modified) power plants and industrial sources, while excluding small emitters from regulations.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is phasing-in requirements for use of the best available cost-effective pollution controls — starting with new, large industrial emitters like power plants — while shielding smaller emitters.

Many of the petitioners in the cases that were decided this week (National Association of Manufacturers, the Utility Air Regulatory Group, and others) sought to stop EPA from using that approach.

Specifically, they tried to prevent EPA from applying the Prevention of Significant Deterioration (PSD) program to greenhouse gases.

(Ironically, their efforts actually put at risk the very regulatory protections intended to ensure that small sources of pollution were not inappropriately covered by greenhouse gas regulations.)

 Since the 1970’s, the PSD program has required our biggest polluters to use the best technologies to ensure that air quality is maintained. And the PSD program has already brought a reduction of greenhouse gas pollution.

EPA has issued more than 30 permits to large sources of industrial pollution across the country since January 2, 2011. These permits cover a range of industries, from biomass refineries to cement manufacturing facilities to coal-fired electricity generating stations.

In the permits issued to date, industry and permitting authorities have focused on energy efficient design. As a result, these facilities are using cogeneration equipment, cleaner fuels, leak detection and maintenance programs, and distinct manufacturing processes that enable us to have new and expanded facilities with a lower carbon footprint.

These are precisely the actions we need to as we step forward towards a low carbon economy.

Fortunately for all of us, the court strongly reaffirmed the application of the PSD program to greenhouse gases. The court decision states that:

Congress made perfectly clear that the PSD program was meant to protect against precisely the types of harms caused by greenhouse gases.

The court decision continues:

 [I]t is crystal clear that PSD permittees must install BACT [best available control technology] for greenhouse gases.

This week’s decision means that our country’s largest sources of greenhouse gas pollution will use the best available means for limiting their carbon emissions. At the same time, it means we can protect small sources of pollution from regulation, and ensure that state and local permitting authorities face a manageable work load.

EPA’s now-approved rules allow us to take action to protect our country from the harms caused by climate-disrupting pollution.

It’s one more way that this week’s court decision is a win for all of us.

Posted in Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Policy / Comments are closed