Mercury rollback is a direct threat to our children's health

Mercury rollback is a direct threat to our children's health
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When I was Southeast regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, I took as a given that my job was to protect the communities in my region from harmful pollution. It never occurred to me that I would have to defend the fundamental appropriateness of regulating dangerous industrial emissions. How times have changed.

Tuesday, I am testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee about the EPA’s efforts to undermine the life-saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).


It is unacceptable that Trump’s EPA would try to legitimize the idea that regulating harmful neurotoxins and carcinogens is anything less than necessary.

This oversight hearing is shining a much-needed light on EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus | Trump oil purchase in jeopardy | Analysis finds gasoline demand could fall 50 percent EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus EPA watchdog to review pollution plans after threat to withhold California highway funding MORE’s attempt to systematically unravel our nation’s pollution protections one-by-one. If you read between the lines of the agency’s proposal, you will find an effort to weaken the legal basis of the MATS.  You will also uncover a startling question: Is it necessary for EPA to regulate neurotoxic heavy metals that come from coal plants and diminish the intelligence of our children?

In other words, does protecting babies’ brains cost too much? The very idea that the agency with the mission of “protecting human health and the environment” would ever consider such a notion is beyond the pale. 

Everything science tells us about these pollutants demonstrates that controlling them is not just necessary, but vital. Coal-fired power plants are a significant source of mercury emissions. This mercury takes a major toll on our health and our economy. In 2005, researchers estimated that between 316,000 and 637,000 newborns were born each year in the U.S. with elevated mercury levels in their blood – levels associated with loss of IQ. The resulting loss of intelligence and lost productivity was calculated to cost $8.7 billion in year 2000 dollars. Of that cost, $1.3 billion was attributable to mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Even more disturbing is that EPA’s proposal, if finalized, could undermine the legal basis of the MATS. In the absence of enforceable federal standards for harmful pollution, there is nothing to guarantee that the utility industry would continue to operate pollution controls now limiting mercury and acid gases from power plants. The potential lack of oversight should concern us all.

Supporters of this irresponsible proposal should not be allowed to hide the central fact that the agency charged with protecting American’s health and welfare from air pollution is claiming that control of large-scale toxic emissions is not necessary. Hundreds of thousands of Americans submitted comments to EPA opposing this proposal. Moms and dads stood shoulder to shoulder with health experts, faith groups, tribal leaders — and perhaps most tellingly, even the regulated industry itself — in opposition to this proposal. Now Congress is also taking notice.


So what should be done? To the current rule, nothing. The existing rule is working and both health and financial benefits have been realized. If Wheeler does anything at all, he should strengthen our nation’s limits on mercury and toxic pollution from coal plants. EPA should look to these life-saving standards, and find ways to further reduce hazardous air pollutants from these sources and better protect the health of children, families and communities living near these facilities and downwind from them. Wheeler is well aware undermining the foundation of the MATS has the potential to crumble the rule.

This action must be called out for what it is: A direct threat to our children’s health. As parents, we find this unconscionable.

Heather McTeer Toney is national field director for Moms Clean Air Force, a national organization of more than 1.2 million parents. She previously served as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast Region under President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden could be picking the next president: VP choice more important than ever Civil rights leader Joseph Lowery dies at 98 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work MORE. She is also the former mayor of Greenville, Mississippi, serving two terms.