For Immediate Release - March 25, 2015

AG Healey Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Uphold EPA’s Rule to Reduce Toxic Power Plant Emissions

Leads Coalition of States in Defending EPA’s Rule to Reduce Mercury and Other Harmful Emissions that Endanger Children and Public Health

BOSTON – Attorney General Maura Healey today issued the following statement as the U.S. Supreme Court hears oral arguments concerning a challenge to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule.

“Massachusetts and a number of other states have enacted tough state laws to reduce hazardous air pollutant emissions from power plants, but we need a federal standard to be truly successful in protecting the health of our residents nationwide,” AG Healey said. “EPA’s rule will reduce toxic air emissions that harm our residents and natural resources, and is the kind of commonsense regulation that demands support. I urge the Supreme Court to uphold the lower court’s decision in this critical case.”

BACKGROUND:

The AG’s Office is leading 15 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, and the cities of Baltimore, Chicago, New York City, and Erie County, New York, in defending EPA’s long-overdue standards to reduce mercury and other hazardous air pollutant emissions from coal and oil-fired electric power plants, an important step to protect the public from harmful exposure to mercury, in particular children and women of child-bearing age. The other states joining Massachusetts are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

On Feb. 25, 2015, AG Healey led the filing of a multistate Supreme Court brief in support of the MATS rule. Issued in 2012, the MATS rule will reduce power-plant mercury emissions by 75 percent in 2015, and will substantially cut emissions of other toxic metals, fine particulate matter, and acid gases, through the implementation of pollution-control technology already widely used in the electric power industry. These pollutants pose serious health harms including neurological damage, cancer, and acute and chronic respiratory diseases. 

Various industry groups – including the National Mining Association and the Utility Air Regulatory Group – along with a number of states, challenged the MATS rule in federal appeals court. The AG’s Office intervened in that challenge and argued in support of EPA on behalf of the coalition of states and local governments supporting the MATS rule.

In April 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia upheld the MATS rule and the validity of EPA’s determination that regulation of hazardous air pollutant emissions from electric power plants is “appropriate and necessary.”

In November 2014, the Supreme Court agreed to hear petitions filed by the same industry groups and a coalition of states that argued EPA had erred by focusing on public health impacts and not considering costs when first deciding whether it was appropriate to regulate hazardous air pollution from power plants at all. The AG argues in her brief that EPA properly considered the costs of regulating toxic power-plant emissions when it established the technology-based emission standards that the MATS rule requires power plants to meet. The AG argues that EPA is not required to consider costs at the threshold point of deciding whether to regulate.

The brief also argues that, as a practical matter, power plants, using readily-available, cost-effective control technologies, have successfully complied with mercury reduction requirements currently in place in a number of states that typically are more stringent than the proposed MATS rule, without adverse economic effects or impacts on electric system reliability.

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that poses serious danger to people, especially to developing fetuses and children, and to wildlife. When airborne mercury from power plants is deposited into the water, it can change into methylmercury, a highly toxic form of mercury that accumulates in the food chain, in particular in fish. Children exposed to methylmercury consumed by their mothers during pregnancy can suffer lifelong adverse developmental effects. Currently, all 50 states have fish consumption advisories in place related to mercury contamination.

As a sector, electric power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions and other hazardous air pollutants in the United States – emitting hundreds of thousands of tons of those pollutants each year. EPA estimates that the MATS rule will prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths each year, and that the monetized health benefits of the rule will range from $37 to $90 billion annually, meaning that for every $1 spent by electric power plants to reduce toxic air emissions, the public will receive $3 to $9 in health benefits.

This case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Melissa A. Hoffer, Chief, and Tracy Triplett, of Attorney General Healey’s Energy and Environment Bureau.

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