Bass Angler Magazine

Rolling back the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will burden Americans with more closures of rivers and lakes

For decades, thousands of lakes and rivers around the country have seen closures because of high levels of mercury found in fish. It has been a source of frustration for fishermen, and part of larger national health crisis involving mercury pollution, which impairs the brains of young children before and after birth. Unfortunately, the EPA is now proposing to allow more mercury pollution, undermining an effective program that’s supported by conservationists and most utilities.
As of 2011, the EPA’s National Fish Advisory Program identified 4,821 water bodes with advisories, including 42% of the nation’s lakes and 36% of the nation’s river miles due to Mercury as well as other pollution. Since then states across the country have continued to issue thousands of advisories (see a sample here).
It’s an issue that has spurred a diverse array of sportsmen’s groups to action.
In 2012, after years of stalled efforts, the government finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, to reduce mercury and 84 other dangerous pollutants. The utility companies got to work and almost all power plants now comply with the rules.
Unfortunately, the administration is now trying to move us backward.
The Acting Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, has confirmed that he’s “reconsidering” the legal foundation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – a move that could allow him to topple national safeguards against the pollution linked to cancer, lung disease, and impairs the brains of babies. This past weekend the White House also confirmed it is reviewing the proposal.
The result is that in the future, technology that limits mercury pollution and other toxins might be turned off, sending more of this neurotoxin into lakes, rivers, fish, and to our kids.
We hope you will consider writing in opposition to this change. We would be happy to arrange a conversation with one of our experts, if that would be helpful. Below is some additional background on the issue.
-Keith Gaby
Communications Director, Climate, Health, and Political Affairs
Environmental Defense Fund
Four things to should know about the Trump Administrations attempt to rollback the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards
  1. Coal-fired power plants emit at least 84 separate hazardous air pollutants, including mercury that gets into kids and fish.
EPA is required by law to reduce hazardous air pollution – thanks to the bipartisan Clean Air Act Amendments 1990. Power plants were the leading source of many toxic pollutants, including mercury and arsenic, before the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards went into effect. Source: EPA 2011
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are now fully implemented and are successfully reducing American families’ exposure to:
  • Mercury, which causes brain damage in babies
  • Arsenic, which can cause cancer
  • Lead, which can damage children’s developing nervous system
  • Chromium and nickel, which cause cancer
  • Acid gases, which cause serious lung disease
  • And other poisonous substances in our air.
  1. Rolling back the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will mean more death and disease
The mercury from coal plant smokestacks contributes to localized pollution hot spots, and also blows into downwind states where it contaminates lakes and rivers – and, in turn, the fish we eat. Mercury contamination in fish spans lakes and rivers across all regions of the U.S.
Hundreds of thousands of American newborns still face the risk of learning disabilities or worse due to prenatal exposure to mercury, and pregnant women are still routinely warned not to eat certain kinds of fish because of the high levels of mercury in our waters.
Mercury pollution can also disproportionately impact certain groups. Native Americans, for example, often eat up to 20 times more fish than the general U.S. population.
Thanks to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, we are starting to see progress. According to a recent study, mercury levels in Atlantic Bluefin tuna are now rapidly declining due to a shift away from burning coal. Rolling back the standards would reverse that progress.
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards help ensure 90 percent of the mercury in coal burned in power plants is not released into our air. 
EPA estimates the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards:
  • Save up to 11,000 lives each year
  • Prevent thousands of heart attacks each year
  • Prevent thousands of asthma attacks each year
  • Prevent thousands of hospital and emergency room visits each year
The economic benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are as high as $90 billion each year, outweighing the costs by up to a margin of 9-to-1.
  1. Virtually no one supports rolling back the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards
In 2011, more than 800,000 people sent comments to EPA supporting strong mercury standards.
States, mayors, public health groups and medical associations, environmental groups, faith groups, small business groups, the NAACP, moms, scientists, sportsmen, and Voces Verdes have all spoken up in support of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.
In the last few months, everyone – from industry and labor leaders to Members of Congress from both parties – have asked the Trump administration to leave the standards in place
  • A group of industry and labor leaders – including the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Edison Electric Institute; the American Public Power Association;; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers – sent a letter to EPA in July asking the agency leave the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards “in place and effective”
  • Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Tom Carper (D-DE)  recently sent a letter to EPA asking the agency not to change the standards
A rollback of these standards will benefit no one except perhaps a few coal barons. Wheeler was a lobbyist for coal baron Bob Murray before being appointed to head EPA. Murray has identified eliminating our protections against mercury pollution as a top priority of his.
  1. The power sector is already meeting the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards
In a filing with the U.S. District Court for the D.C. Circuit last year, power companies supporting the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards said:
“Electric generators have based their investment decisions and price predictions on the expectation that the Standards would remain in effect.”
Most major power companies have already complied with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and for a fraction of their original estimated cost. FirstEnergy, for example, initially estimated up to $3 billion to comply, but their final estimated compliance cost has now dropped to $345 million.
An analysis released earlier this year found that between 2014 and 2016 reported coal plant mercury emissions declined 69 percent. Rolling back the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards could jeopardize that progress and put communities at risk.
Rolling back the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will burden Americans with more closures of rivers and lakes, air pollution, asthma attacks, and early deaths.

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