Attorney General Bonta Continues Support for Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Tuesday, April 12, 2022
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta, as part of a multistate coalition, expressed support for the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to rescind a Trump-era rule undermining critical mercury and other toxic pollution limits and reaffirm its prior finding that these limits are “appropriate and necessary” to protect public health and the environment. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards limit emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants, preventing tens of thousands of premature deaths and generating billions of dollars in economic benefits each year. 

“Communities living at the intersection of poverty and pollution bear the brunt of toxic air pollution from power plants, and suffer from chronic respiratory illness, cancer, and other health problems as a result,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are critical for reducing this pollution and protecting public health. In fact: These standards quite literally save lives. I urge the EPA to move swiftly to finalize its proposal.”

“We appreciate that U.S. EPA has revoked its unjustified 2020 finding that regulating hazardous air pollutants from power plants is not appropriate and necessary,” said California Air Resources Board Executive Officer Richard W. Corey. “We also applaud the agency’s return to considering all benefits from the regulation, such as accompanying reductions in particulate matter. This action reaffirms the appropriateness and necessity of regulating hazardous air pollutants from power plants as an important foundational tool for reducing air toxics in overburdened communities.”

Fossil fuel-fired power plants are the largest source of hazardous air pollution in the United States, including acid gases, mercury, and other toxic metals such as arsenic, chromium, and nickel. These pollutants cause serious health harms including neurological damage, cancer, and acute and chronic respiratory diseases, particularly in children and people who are pregnant. Mercury pollution, in particular, tends to disproportionately impact environmentally vulnerable communities such as tribes, subsistence fishers, and fence line communities.

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.” In 2016, the EPA found that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were “appropriate and necessary” after a detailed determination that the massive benefits dwarfed the estimated costs. However, on May 22, 2020, the EPA reversed this finding. California joined a multistate coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging the reversal shortly thereafter.

In the comments, the attorneys general argue that:

  • The EPA’s previous finding that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are “appropriate and necessary” is consistent with applicable law, including the Supreme Court’s directive in Michigan v. EPA;
  • The EPA’s Trump-era reconsideration of this finding, determining that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are not appropriate and necessary, was arbitrary and capricious;
  • Coal and oil-fired power plants have already substantially complied with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, and the Trump-era rule only served to create unnecessary uncertainty in the industry; and
  • The EPA’s current proposal rightly takes into account the full costs and benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, including the environmental and public health benefits of reducing toxic air pollution — particularly on already-overburdened communities — once again finding that the vital benefits of these standards to human health and the environment dwarf the costs.  

Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, as well as the the cities of Baltimore, Chicago and New York City in filing the comments. 

A copy of the comment letter is available here.

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