Will the U.S. EPA Back Away from Reducing Mercury Pollution?

January 30, 2019
By Jon Heinrich

Mercury air emissions cause mercury contamination in fish. Photo by Dave Vetrano

On December 27, 2018, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced changes to the Mercury Air Toxics Standard (MATS) established in 2012. EPA will accept comments on the proposed changes for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which was expected to occur by mid-January. The MATS requires reduction of mercury air emissions from electric utility coal and oil fired boilers.

The EPA proposes to leave the mercury emission limits in place, but rescind the determination that the rule was necessary. When the EPA originally determined the rule was necessary, it considered the health benefits of reducing other air pollutants in addition to mercury. These “co-benefits” were part of the legal and economic justification of the Mercury Air Toxics Standard. The EPA now believes this reasoning is wrong.

This is a significant action that has implications affecting future federal air toxic rule making and raises concerns that the EPA may still propose rescinding MATS. In Wisconsin, the issue of mercury contamination is critically important because of our many lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands and numbers of people who catch and eat fish. Mercury air emissions are responsible for methyl mercury contamination of fish. Methyl mercury is a human toxin. Certain waters in our state and nationwide, have fish consumption advisories in place to protect sensitive individuals, pregnant women, young children, and others.

The MATS required electric utilities to reduce mercury air emissions from coal and oil fired boilers. Since the MATS was established in 2012, over 80% reduction in mercury and other air contaminants has been achieved nationwide. Initially the EPA considered rescinding the MATS in its entirety, however electric utilities that had invested in reducing mercury emissions objected.

The Wisconsin’s Green Fire Air Quality Work Group will carefully review the proposed changes and consider providing written comments. We believe it is in Wisconsin’s interest to object to abandoning the “co-benefits” approach when considering regulations because protection of public health should be a priority of the EPA.

For more information:

Proposed Revised Supplemental Finding and Results of the Residual Risk and Technology Review | Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) | US EPA – https://www.epa.gov/mats/proposed-revised-supplemental-finding-and-results-residual-risk-and-technology-review

Trump’s EPA Poised to Undo Progress on Mercury Pollution Reduction
By Sally Hardin and Angelica Lujan – December 18, 2018
http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/reports/2018/12/18/4642EPA Poised to Undo Progress on Mercury Pollution Reduction

John Heinrich is Chair of Wisconsin’s Green Fire’s Air Quality Work Group


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