Wed 4/17: Stop the fake “cost/benefits” attack on the Mercury & Air Toxics Rule. Deadline TONIGHT, 11:59 pm EST.

Action – Comment now! Even most utilities think this is a bad idea!

The EPA wants to weaken the Mercury and Air Toxics (MATS) Rule by insisting that it is no longer “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollution from coal and oil-fired power plants because the costs outweigh the benefits.

(Let’s take a moment to clarify that…)costs outweigh benefits

(There, fixed!)

This is just the beginning. The Trump EPA is trying out this new weaponized cost/benefit strategy. If it works, they’ll use it to dismantle all our long-standing environmental regulations protecting our air and water from the toxic by-products of fossil fuel generation. Please speak up against this latest attack on our environment.

The deadline is TONIGHT, Wed. 4/17, 11:59 pm EST. Don’t miss this chance! 

  • Read their nonsense here. BE OUTRAGED!
  • COMMENT HERE.
  • Copy your comment and send it to your rep. and senators too! – contact info. here
  • Check out other comments here.
  • Information: Writing tips, sample comments, talking points, history of the EPA and reference below, in that order.

Some writing tips!

  • Make it personal if you can: Why does controlling mercury and other toxic air emissions matter to you? If for example, you fish in local water or if you or your family eats a large amount of fish, say that. If you live near a coal or oil-fired power plant, share your experience. 
  • If you have relevant expertise, say so. You don’t have to be an expert to make a valid and valuable comment, but if you do have expertise, share your knowledge.
  • If you have information relevant to the rule (for example, news articles or anecdotal information about how mercury or other air toxic emissions affects health or the environment, include that information and highlight it.
  • Be constructive and civil. Don’t write a lot if less will do. 
  • Make it yours. You might see a great comment, don’t copy it exactly. Each unique comment is only counted once.

Sample Comments

Comment: The EPA is supposed to protect the environment and human health. Weakening the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards does the opposite. DO NOT WEAKEN THESE RULES

Comment: It is truly very difficult to comprehend why something as NECESSARY for EVERYONE’s LIFE as clean air is caught up in politics. If MATS is undone, the coal industry will pump toxic pollutants into the air that fellow Americans breathe. Do not let this happen!

Comment: Mercury exposure can harm the brain, lungs, and immune sytem. It is a brain poison that can get through to infants through breast milk. I understand that you are considering allowing degradation to the standards now in place for regulating mercury. I am strongly opposed to any reduction in the standard for clean air and water, incuding mercery pollution. Your job is to protect Americans – people. Not to protect businesses. Please put your priorities on people.

Comment: Cost associated with regulating Hazardous Air Pollutants originating coal and oil -fired power plants should not be factor in the consideration of these rule changes. The health and safety of the public should be a paramount importance to the EPA (and the government in general) rather than the cost savings to power providers. The costs for cleaner emissions should be absorbed by the power providers now and always and should not be a factor in reducing air quality standards.

Comment: I strongly oppose any weakening of the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS), which would result in increased emissions of mercury, acid gases, and other hazardous air pollutants from U.S. coal-fired power plants. This would once again expose people and wildlife to detrimental levels of mercury and other airborne pollutants, reversing the progress made in the last ten to twenty years in improving human and wildlife health.

Comment: As an Emergency Room Physician I see the deleterious effects of air pollution and how it effects children and people with even mild respiratory disorders. One only need look at the public health data from China and India to see that any weakening of our clean air standards puts millions of Americans at risk of serious health issues and premature death. It is imperative to the health of all people that the National Emmmission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants not be weakened, or changed to favor any increase in these potentially dangerous chemicals and elements. Please take the health of all Americans seriously in your deliberations.

Comment: I firmly oppose this rule change. This proposed approach is economically inefficient, devaluing rules that could achieve significant simultaneous deductions in pollutants, and depriving the public of increased health benefits from a single rule. It would substantially tip the scales in favor of the interests of polluters over the interests of the public. As a person already suffering from respiratory problems, this rule change can only effect my health negatively and will probably shorten my life.
The EPAs proposed determination now entirely hinges on a narrowly constrained cost-benefit analysis, instead of looking at the broader range of benefits.

Comment: 130,000 more asthma attacks. Up to 11,000 more premature deaths. Every. Single. Year.
Thats whats at stake if Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Andrew Wheeler succeeds in sabotaging vital mercury pollution standards.
This is serious especially for our kids and grandkids. Speak out to protect them.
We know that mercury is dangerous, especially to pregnant women and communities of color. Pollution, including mercury, from coal- and oil-burning power plants is linked to brain, nervous system, and fetal development. The harsh reality is that this proposal will jeopardize the health of our communities and the future of our economy.

Comment:I urge you not to change the standards for determining mercury emissions from coal and oil-fired power plants. The rules that are in place have reduced that hazard by 77%. Mercury is pernicious especially to babies and young children. We should be doing everything possible to eliminate it from the environment. To say that the savings from the rule aren’t as great as the cost to business is ludicrous. You say it’s only $4-6 billion. These are lives we’re talking about. Even if it’s fewer people affected, it’s still people. If it costs businesses money that’s too bad. Maybe power bills will have to go up although I’ll bet it wouldn’t be that much. Your job is to protect people. Business interests come second. If something is too big for business to handle then perhaps that’s a business we should be trying to phase out. Just think of yourself with a lower IQ and less motor functions. We can’t be thinking of people as collateral damage. Business will just have to come up with a way to comply with strict regulations. I hope you will leave the previous standards alone. Thank you.

Comment: The Trump administration’s reconsideration of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) is a disgraceful attack on safeguards put in place to keep children and families safe from the dangers of mercury and other hazardous pollutants. It is now evident the administration will not even stop when the well-being of our most vulnerable is at risk.
If MATS is undone, we can expect more brain damage in fetuses and more learning disabilities in our children as well as more heart attacks, asthma attacks and deaths across the US. There should be no doubt about the proper course of action.
Please keep American families safe by immediately walking back this senseless attack on critical protections.
As noted, mercury causes brain damage and other serious health problems. For this reason, It must be carefully regulated. Also, mercury poisoning is a byproduct of coal. Our civilization was built on coal. But now coal is too harmful to produce or use since, with climate changing rapidly, its mining, transportation and use is destroying the possibility of a humane future. Deregulation is not a benefit to the People – it is a crime against humanity and life as we know it. The planet will do fine with coal and mercury but humans and the life that has co-evolved with us will be weakened. Don’t engage your life force against the life of your own species. Please think deeper and end the avalanche of deregulation. Yes, it creates a little short term profit but it is crime against humanity.

Comment: It is appropriate and necessary to regulate the release of mercury into the environment.
As a neuroscientist, I am appalled that we would even consider anything other than policies to REDUCE mercury in the environment. It’s toxicity and harmful health effects are well documented and have been for quite some time (Neathery and Miller 1975, Koos and Longo 1976), and our knowledge of this has only continued to grow the more we examine the issue (Bernhoft 2012, Beckers and Rinklebe 2017). These are scientific reviews in which the core message is easy to understand, but if required I would be happy to help provide more explanation if you don’t see how harmful your actions are to the environment and the citizens who depend on you.
The horribly flawed cost-benefit analysis used only serves to reveal the level of corruption that has led the EPA away from its core mission. In considering the worth of a rule, you should consider all benefits, direct benefits that we are aware of but have not quantified, refusing to keep up with the relevant state of scientific knowledge about the issue, etc.

Comment: EPA’s proposal to change the way costs and benefits are calculated to determine protective limits for mercury and air toxics (MATS) emissions contains substantial inaccuracies and omits current financial and scientific information. Based on these limitations, alone, the action should be withdrawn.

EPA has not made clear the need and justification for its current proposal. The science, benefits and costs using current information strongly support the existing standards, and industry has already complied at a much lower cost than originally estimated. The proposal does not protect the public, but appears intended to pave the way for EPA to minimize the benefits of future protections and open the current emission limits to legal challenges. This is inconsistent with the intent of the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA’s other authorizing statutes and EPA’s role in protecting the public.

EPA disregards the substantial public health benefits of reducing pollutants such as particulate matter (PM) that co-exist with mercury emissions (co-benefits), even though representing co-benefits shows the overall benefits of the protections and have been considered important under republican and democratic presidents since 1981. EPA and federal guidelines support consideration of all identifiable costs and benefits, as consistent with standard accounting practices.

EPA justifies this omission by stating that PM is not the “target” pollutant. However, many hazardous air pollutants, including mercury and almost all other metals, are attached to PM. The controls that reduce mercury and other toxics also reduce PM and the constituents that form PM in the atmosphere. There is a clear relationship between PM, mercury and other toxics, as well as clear and significant health benefits from reducing PM. Including PM also helps industry by allowing them to monitor just PM, rather than several individual pollutants.

In publishing the original MATS rule in 2011-2012, EPA used then-available information to quantify some of the health benefits of reducing mercury and listed additional benefits it could not quantify at the time. This is standard practice. EPA is now omitting these unquantified benefits from its analysis entirely. However, currently available science would allow EPA to quantify a much greater benefit than was possible to calculate in 2011-2012. EPA should include this important information in its analysis to present a complete and accurate accounting of benefits.

For example, air monitoring data shows that limiting mercury has a much greater impact than originally estimated. Recent studies show benefits that are orders of magnitude larger than the estimate EPA is currently using. These studies would allow EPA to more accurately estimate mercury reductions in commercial fish consumed by the public, for example. It would allow EPA to include the benefits to cardiovascular health due to mercury reductions. It would update EPA’s assumptions that a threshold exists for the neurological effects of mercury and allow it to take background exposures into account in assessing additional exposures.

EPA overemphasizes the importance of cost in its proposal, even as the information used to establish the costs is incomplete. The CAA provisions related to the MATS rule do not use cost-benefit analysis as the sole basis for setting an emissions limit. However, if EPA used current cost, science and engineering information in its analysis, it would show that benefits far exceed costs.

For example, the cost of purchasing and operating equipment to comply with the MATS rule was much lower in reality than the estimate EPA used for the 2011-2012 rule. This was due to innovations in control technology and the increased use of less costly natural gas, which did not require the controls. This and other current information should be used to present costs accurately.

EPA’s current proposal is not adequately justified as necessary; it omits best and current science and cost information; and it deviates from standard accounting and procedural practices. For these reasons, EPA’s proposal to withdraw the appropriate and necessary finding, to state that it is not necessary to update the standards, and to request comment on rescinding the rule should be withdrawn in total.

Suggested talking points

What is the new pollution-over-people EPA’s true motivation?

  • The stated purposes of EPA’s current action are (1) to undo the agency’s previous finding that it is appropriate and necessary to regulate mercury emissions; (2) to declare that it is not necessary to update the emissions limits with new science, as EPA is required to do; and (3) to ask for comment on whether the MATS rule should be rescinded.
  • According to Janet McCabe, former EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Air, “There is a likelihood that this rule-making will be the administration’s flagship effort to permanently change the way the federal government considers health benefits.If adopted, the change would prevent regulators from calculating positive health effects — known as “co-benefits” — that come from reducing pollutants other than those being targeted. The shift could have implications for public health protections across the federal government, experts said.
  •  If this action is successful, it will open a door to rolling these and other standards back or allowing industry to challenge them in court. And it will jeopardize all attempts to set pollution limits in the future.

Most of the utility industry is not behind this: The Edison Electric Institute, which ranks as the utility sector’s largest trade association, said that its members wanted to preserve the Obama-era pollution standards. Its spokesman Brian Reil said “EPA should leave the underlying MATS rule in place and unchanged, and should not finalize any action that would undermine the existing MATS rule. Since the MATS rule took effect in 2012, electric companies have reduced mercury emissions by nearly 90 percent.”

Mercury is way toxic: Mercury causes neurological disorders, cardiovascular harm, endocrine disruption and weakened immune systems. Developing fetuses and children can suffer serious cognitive impairment. When it enters water bodies it accumulates in the food chain, leading to high concentrations in fish. When the fish are consumed by people or wildlife mercury can damage multiple organ systems.

The EPA is lying about their cost/benefit analysis: Using biased and faulty analysis, this EPA claims that the costs to industry outweighs the health benefits of regulating mercury. Untrue. The EPA’s 2011 regulatory impact analysis is so outdated, that the EPA should make no regulatory decision based on it. MATS has been complied with. At this point, the  EPA  should be revising its benefits analysis to be consistent with current science, both to better inform the public and to determine whether MATS should be strengthened to address residual risk to public health, as called for by the Clean Air Act. Here are some examples of their fiddling with the facts:

  • Industry costs were less than expectedThe capital and operating costs of complying with MATS turned out to be much lower than EPA had estimated for MATS. One industry analyst estimated that the actual cost of complying with MATS was less than one-quarter of EPA’s original estimate of $9.6 billion. Despite real data on the cost of MATS compliance, the EPA continues to use their original conservative estimate. IGNORED.
    • Mercury and acid gas controls became less expensive as the industry developed activated carbon and sorbents that were tailored to power plant control;
    • Power plant operators learned by using continuous emission monitors that they acted as a process control, allowing  plant operators to fine-tune their use of activated carbon and other additives and avoid using more than is necessary;
    • The EPA had assumed that the use of activated carbon and sorbents would increase the cost of waste disposal at coal plants but in fact, with the improved activated carbon and sorbents, this did not happen;
    • The EPA had overestimated the amount of generating capacity that would need to retrofit with fabric filters, dry flue gas desulfurization (FGD), and that would need to upgrade their existing wet FGD.
    • Natural gas prices did not rise as EPA had assumed based on Energy Information Administration projection, and as a result generators switched to less costly natural gas generation which requires no mercury or toxic pollutant control.
  • There are more health benefits than expected: The EPA wants to ignore a large public health benefit – the controls on power plants required to reduce MATS also reduces particle pollution (or PM). EPA’s justification for leaving this out is that PM is not the “target pollutant”, ignoring that particles are actually the delivery system for hazardous air pollutants and almost all the metals. Other benefit ignored by the EPA – reduction of PM in the atmosphere as result of chemical reactions of pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, that are emitted by power plants and other facilities. IGNORED.
  • EPA is pretending that “unquantified benefits” don’t exist: In 2011, the EPA quantified a limited subset of the direct benefits associated with reducing mercury and the other toxic air pollutants. There were also “unquantified benefits” listed in the MATS Regulatory Impact Analysis that were acknowledged as important, but could not be fully examined with the time and resources they had. In the current EPA proposal they are treated as if they did not exist. EVIDENCE REMOVED.
    • Example: In the MATS original analysis, EPA presented a valuation of the effect of IQ point loss in children of recreational anglers eating self-caught fresh water fish, a very small population. Left “unquantified”  was an examination on the effect of mercury that every US citizen has in their blood as the result of eating commercial marine fish.
    • Example: The IQ point loss is not the most sensitive neurotoxic effect of mercury exposure. In 2000, the NRC linked mercury exposure to neurodevelopmental effects such as deficits in attention, fine-motor function, confrontational naming, visual-spatial abilities, and verbal memory. Identified but “unquantified” due to the huge amount of data required, the EPA’s current position is that these issues don’t exist.
  • EPA is ignoring recent science that would allow it to quantify more benefits.
    • The amount of deposited mercury from our plants was underestimated. The EPA’s original modelling assumed that most of it would spread around the globe, minimizing the perceived benefits to the US of regulating it. Decades later, researchers have noticed a steady decline in atmospheric concentrations in North America due to MATS, even as global mercury emissions have increased, proving that the regulations are beneficial to us.  IGNORED.
    • EPA’s benefits analysis used very small data sets, such as in the previous example of the recreational fishermen. Also, for this population EPA considered only the value of lost IQ points for children of this group, ignoring the full range of known health effects. There are far more comprehensive  studies that have concluded benefits that are orders of magnitude larger than this. IGNORED.
    • Recent studies could allow EPA to estimate the reduction in fish mercury concentrations in near coastal waters, including the Atlantic and Gulf coasts where a significant amount of the fish that American eat are found. IGNORED.
    • Significant “unquantified” benefits in the MATS analyses can now be quantified, such as the effect of methylmercury on cardiovascular health.   Studies have documented these effects and an independent panel concluded that there was sufficient evidence to include analyses of these effects in regulatory analyses. Including these effects would increase quantified benefits dramatically. EVIDENCE REMOVED.
    • The EPA’s original analysis assumed that there is a threshold for neurological effects of methylmercury and that exposures below the reference dose have no adverse effects. More recent science does not support that approach. IGNORED.
    • EPA also undercounts benefits because it does not take into account that the background mercury exposure in all people requires less additional exposure to reach the reference dose level than the EPA analysis assumes. IGNORED.

History of Regulation

(Abridged – compiled by Indivisible Berkeley)

2011: The EPA announced the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollution (also called hazardous air pollutants – or HAP) from coal and oil-fired power plants.  The standards were authorized by the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments.   Mercury is emitted to the air from coal-fired power plants.  When it is deposited to water or runs off into water it can be converted to methylmercury, that can accumulate up the aquatic food chain and lead to high concentrations in predatory fish. When consumed by humans and wildlife, mercury contaminated fish represent a health risk. Methylmercury damages multiple organ systems, including  the cardiovascular, renal and immune systems.  It is best known for the damage it causes to the nervous system. The developing fetus is the most vulnerable population to neurotoxic effects of methylmercury.

Coal fired power plants were the biggest emitters of man-made mercury before the MATS rule went into effect, yet they were among the last to be regulated after at least 21 years of delays due to lobbying and suits brought by industry.

In order to regulate air toxics like mercury under the Clean Air Act (CAA), EPA must make the case that it is “appropriate and necessary”(A&N) to regulate them – an A&N Finding. In 2000 EPA made that determination.

2012: The EPA published its final Mercury and Air Toxics Standards or “MATS,” which established emission limits at coal- and oil-fired power plants for mercury, acid gases and other metallic pollutants. It also established standards for reducing dioxins and furans.

Industry, states, environmental organizations and public health organizations challenged many aspects of the EPA’s A&N Finding and the final 2012 MATS rule. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA should have considered the cost of compliance as part of its A&N Finding.

2015-2016: EPA responded by publishing an analysis of compliance costs showing that they were significantly lower than the health benefits. The new safeguards helped prevent more than 11,000 premature deaths each year and for every $1 in compliance costs $9 of health benefits would be achieved. As is standard practice, EPA’s analysis quantified the benefits as much as possible but also included a general discussion of benefits for which quantification was not possible.

2016: Power plants have installed pollution controls. Today the MATS rule has succeeded in reducing mercury emissions nationwide by 85%.

The vast majority of utility companies have said the proposed changes are of little benefit to them, because they have already spent the money to install pollution controls. They have urged the Trump administration to leave the rule in place.

References

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