Attorney General Becerra Files Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration Rule Undermining Critical Mercury Pollution Limits

Monday, July 20, 2020
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today, as part of a coalition of 21 attorneys general, filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rule undermining critical mercury pollution limits. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) limit emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. These standards helped reduce power-plant mercury emissions by 86 percent between 2006 and 2017.  Each year, these standards prevent tens of thousands of premature deaths and generate more than $1 billion in economic activity. In the lawsuit, the coalition will argue that EPA unlawfully disregarded the life-saving benefits of these standards, in violation of the Clean Air Act. 

"The Trump Administration is turning a blind eye to the massive benefits of limiting air pollution at a time when our country can least afford it,” said Attorney General Becerra. “With respiratory illness on the rise, the Trump Administration should be battening down the hatches to ensure that these life-saving standards continue to protect the communities hit first and worst by air pollution. Instead, the Trump Administration has rigged the rulemaking process to prop up dirty power. We’re going to court because we can’t sit back when lives are at stake.”  

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to set pollution control standards for hazardous air pollutant emissions from power plants, if doing so is “appropriate and necessary.” Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the Nation’s largest source of hazardous air pollution, including acid gases, mercury, and other toxic metals such as arsenic, chromium, and nickel. Those pollutants pose severe risks to human health and are particularly harmful to certain highly exposed and sensitive populations, including children and subsistence fishing communities. In 2016, the EPA found that the standards were “appropriate and necessary” after a detailed determination that the massive benefits dwarfed the estimated costs. 

On May 22, 2020, the EPA reversed this finding and instead concluded that the regulation of these power plants is not “appropriate and necessary.” The EPA reached this new conclusion by relying on outdated cost estimates that have since proven too high, while largely ignoring the tremendous public health and environmental benefits of the existing standards.

In the lawsuit, the coalition intends to argue, among other things, that the EPA's prior finding that the MATS are "appropriate and necessary" is consistent with applicable law and science; that rescinding that finding exceeds the EPA's authority and is arbitrary and capricious; and that the EPA's current approach to cost-benefit analysis is not supported by fact or law.

Attorney General Becerra, as part of a multistate coalition, previously filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit to defend the MATS against an industry backed challenge. In 2019, he filed a comment letter criticizing the EPA's proposed determination that existing regulations limiting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants are not appropriate. The comment letter argued that the EPA cannot ignore that these standards save lives by reducing particulate matter emissions. Attorney General Becerra is likewise fighting the EPA’s efforts to justify suppressing science that demonstrates the benefits of reducing air pollution.

In filing the lawsuit, Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin and the District of Columbia, as well as the Cities of Baltimore, Chicago, and New York, and Erie County. 

A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.

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