MEIC joins health, civil rights groups to challenge rollback of power plant emission limits

“It’s just common sense to protect the most vulnerable populations from the highly toxic air pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants,” Anne Hedges, deputy director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, said in a statement. “The technology to keep people safe is being used today and it is affordable. Eliminating these basic protections is simply unconscionable.” (File photo)

(CN) Almost two dozen civil rights, public health and environmental watchdogs, including the Montana Environmental Information Center, hauled the Trump administration to the D.C. Circuit on Friday to defend its rollback of toxic emissions regulations.

The petition for review comes a month after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized changes to rules known as MATS, or Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which were first put in place by the Obama administration to limit emissions of toxic pollutants from power plants.

Whereas Obama’s EPA said that the $9.6 billion annual cost of installing expensive pollution was justified by the benefits, the EPA under President Donald Trump is using a different cost-benefit analysis.

No longer considering the so-called co-benefits that arise from controls — including the reductions of sulfur dioxide and fine particulate matter — EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler now says the controls are not justified by the cost.

Earthjustice, one of 23 groups that signed onto Friday’s petition, says the change leaves critical environmental protections vulnerable to challenges from industry groups.

“Wheeler deceitfully created a bogus excuse for coal companies to challenge the MATS rule in court even though he knows the rule saves thousands of lives every year,” Earthjustice attorney Neil Gormley said in a statement. “If Wheeler’s giveaway to his former clients is successful, our children will be poisoned while we’re preoccupied with the pandemic. This corrupt attack on our communities is immoral and must be stopped.”

Calling out Wheeler for having been a coal lobbyist before accepting his EPA position, the group notes that companies like Westmoreland Mining Holdings are already going after mercury standards now that the rules have changed.

Westmoreland petitioned the D.C. Circuit for regulatory review on May 22. That same day, Thomas Pyle with American Energy Alliance praised what it called the latest “in a long line of regulatory corrections made by the Trump administration aimed at more accurately following the letter of the law and balancing the cost-benefit relationship between protecting our health and maintaining a vibrant energy industry, which is essential to keeping prices affordable for American families.”

While the EPA said its change will not stop it from “ensuring that power plants will emit no more mercury to the air than before,” Earthjustice credits the now-abandoned rules with having decreased mercury air pollution from power plants by about 81% between 2011 and 2017. Additionally, seven of the highest-polluting states reduced mercury emissions by more than 2,000 pounds during those years.

The NAACP, the Environmental Defense Fund and the American Academy Pediatrics signed onto the petition as well.

“It’s just common sense to protect the most vulnerable populations from the highly toxic air pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants,” Anne Hedges, deputy director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, said in a statement. “The technology to keep people safe is being used today and it is affordable. Eliminating these basic protections is simply unconscionable.”