In Honor of National Children’s Health Month, Rep. Schrier Renews Call on EPA to Stop Efforts to Weaken Mercury and Air Toxics Standards
WASHINGTON, DC – As the only pediatrician in Congress, Congresswoman Kim Schrier, M.D. (WA-08) is honoring Children’s Health Month by renewing her call on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop their efforts to weaken Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). In June, Rep. Schrier led a bipartisan amendment that would block the EPA from removing “appropriate and necessary” funding that underpins MATS. In the new letter today, Rep. Schrier and 33 of her colleagues are calling on House leadership to prohibit the use of funds that undermine MATS when negotiating next year’s budget.
“I came to Congress protect our environment for children and to make sure they have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. That is why I am so concerned by recent efforts by Andrew Wheeler and the EPA to undermine regulations that keep our air and water clean,” said Rep. Schrier. “We already have plans in place, and our power plants have already implemented technology to remove mercury and other air toxins from their emissions. The money has already been spent so this wouldn’t save money. The only thing it will do is harm our children. I will keep going to bat for our children to make sure they have a safe, healthy environment for years to come.”
An Obama Administration’s rule in 2012 recognized the significant public health and life-saving benefits of the MATS. A 2018 Trump Administration rule said that it isn’t “appropriate and necessary” to regulate mercury and hazardous air pollutant emissions. After the 2012 rule, the power sector made changes to their systems that have protected children and communities from mercury, lead, arsenic, and other air toxins. Major power sector and labor groups have asked that the standards be left in place after already spending millions of dollars to comply.
Said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), “Since being promulgated in 2012, the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) has substantially reduced mercury pollution from coal-fired plants and generated billions of dollars in yearly economic benefits. Preserving the MATS should not be a partisan issue, but President Trump and Administrator Wheeler have repeatedly tried to roll it back. A bipartisan group of lawmakers stepped up to protect the standard earlier this year, but now appropriations negotiations have placed the MATS back in the line of fire. With my Democratic colleagues, I am calling on Congressional leadership to preserve the MATS and block Administrator Wheeler from wiping out the pollution reductions we have achieved. The quality of our air and the future well-being of our children and grandchildren cannot be used as a bargaining chip.”
Added Rep. Kathy Castor (FL-14), “I was proud to lead my colleagues in passing an amendment to block the EPA’s rollback of MATS, and count on House and Senate leadership to codify this language. The EPA is putting lives at risk with this attempted rollback - mercury pollution poses a severe threat to all of us, especially our children. MATS has proven to be effective in safeguarding public health and reducing hazardous air toxins, and our neighbors, kids, and future generations are counting on Congress to stand strong and protect this standard.”
Mercury poses severe public health risks and affects the nervous system, cardiovascular system, and immune function. Young children are especially vulnerable as mercury is harmful to the developing brain, causing degeneration, and impairing growth in ways that interfere with learning and thinking. Additionally when a woman is pregnant, the mercury in her blood can harm her baby, even if it does not cause her any immediate harm.
Continued Rep. Schrier, “The bottom line is these pollutants are a known public health risk to millions of people. We cannot abandon a policy that has been proven to work and save lives.”
Rep. Schrier’s letter has been signed by Rep. Kim Schrier, M.D., Rep. Kathy Castor, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. Cindy Axne, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, Rep. Julia Brownley, Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. TJ Cox, Rep. Peter DeFazio, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán, Rep. Debbie Dingell, Rep. Mike Doyle, Rep. Adriano Espaillat, Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, Rep. Bill Foster, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, Rep. Deb Haaland, Rep. Pramila Jayapal, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Dan Lipinski, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rep. Jared Huffman, Rep. Doris O. Matsui, Rep. Grace Meng, Rep. Ro Khanna, Rep. Jerry McNerney, Rep. Jamie Raskin, Rep. Bobby L. Rush, Rep. Donna E. Shalala, Rep. Darren Soto, Rep. Haley Stevens
The text of the letter is below:
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader McConnell, Chairwoman Lowey, and Chairman Shelby:
Cc: Minority Leader McCarthy, Minority Leader Schumer, Ranking Member Granger, Vice Chairman Leahy:
As you work to negotiate a final appropriations package to fund the government beyond November 21, 2019, we urge you to retain House language that blocks the federal government from finalizing the rollback of the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) proposal.
Recently, the House voted to pass an amendment, by bipartisan vote, HR454, that prohibits the use of funds to be used for reducing the EPA Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS). These regulations have been implemented by the power sector and have protected children and communities from mercury, lead, arsenic and other air toxics from power plants for the last seven years. Furthermore, the Administration’s proposal to jeopardize the Mercury standards is not even supported by the power industry. Having already spent billions to comply, major power sector and labor groups have asked that the standards be left in place and that EPA not move forward with its proposal to undermine them.
October is Children’s Health month. We should be celebrating advances that protect our children’s health. Instead, this proposal puts our children’s health at risk. Mercury poses severe public health threats and affects the nervous system, cardiovascular system, and immune function. Fetuses and young children are especially vulnerable. Mercury is harmful to the developing brain, causing degeneration, impairing growth in ways that interfere with learning and thinking. Infants and children are at the highest risk because the developing central nervous system is particularly sensitive to methylmercury, the form of mercury we get from eating fish, the largest source of exposure. Fetuses are also at high risk as pregnant women can pass mercury through their placenta into the brains of their developing babies. When a woman is pregnant, the mercury in her blood can harm her baby, even if it does not cause her any immediate health problems.
We are deeply concerned by the potential public health risks of weakening the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. We are no less concerned by the blatant disregard that this Administration has shown toward Native Americans in the rulemaking process. When putting forward this proposal, this Administration failed to consult tribal communities about the rule, claiming that the proposal “does not have tribal implications” and “would neither impose substantial direct compliance costs on tribal governments, nor preempt Tribal law.” Emissions of mercury and other air toxics disproportionately harm certain Native American tribes where fishing is a vital part of tribal culture and where tribal members traditionally consume fish at higher rates than the general population.
MATS has been highly effective in reducing levels of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants, like arsenic, lead, chromium and acid gas, into the atmosphere and is responsible for cutting mercury emissions from power plants by 86% compared to a decade ago. The reduction in mercury emissions has resulted in significant public health benefits and EPA has estimated that the emissions resulting from MATS yields up to $90 billion in benefits each year.
Now, EPA proposes to ignore these significant public health benefits because they include the “co-benefits” of reducing HAP emissions in addition to mercury. Instead, EPA’s proposal would consider only the “direct benefits” of regulating mercury pollution from power plants, which would yield up to $6 million each year.
This issue remains of significant importance. EPA’s proposal threatens the health and safety of our babies and children, and is an especially egregious move by this administration. We urge you to include in any final negotiated package the language adopted with bipartisan support on the House floor during consideration of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies during conference.