Believe it or not, power plants in the U.S. are still polluting the air we breathe, hurting our health, and fueling climate change. Pollution from their smokestacks, particularly those fueled by coal, is one of the main sources of carbon emissions and other toxic pollution that makes our food sources unsafe and can also lead to harmful health impacts like asthma. Maine is in the unenviable position of being a “downwind” state, meaning that pollution from power plants in other states can be carried here and end up in our air and waters, threatening our fish and wildlife. Taking action to limit this harmful pollution protects our planet and communities.
This spring, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released proposals for two rules that cut toxic air pollution from power plants and address the climate crisis by reducing carbon emissions, advancing public health objectives, and promoting environmental justice. When paired with recent legislative wins in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act, these rules would play a significant role in helping the United States meet near-term climate goals and be well on its way to net-zero emissions by midcentury.
The EPA has a legal and moral obligation to ensure Americans have clean air to breathe and water to drink. Join the Natural Resources Council of Maine in calling on the EPA to protect our health and environment by setting the strongest possible limits to cut carbon emissions, deadly mercury, and other pollution from power plants.
Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS)
What: The EPA is proposing to strengthen and update the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) for power plants to reflect recent developments in control technologies and the performance of these plants. This proposed rule reflects the most significant improvements and updates to MATS since EPA first issued these standards in February 2012. It also fulfills EPA’s responsibility under the Clean Air Act to periodically reevaluate its standards.
Background: When coal is burned at a power plant, mercury is released into the air, falls into waterways, and accumulates in fish that people and wildlife eat. In Maine, we face higher-than-average rates of mercury contamination due to prevailing winds carrying it downwind from coal plants. The Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has warned Mainers—especially pregnant women, nursing mothers, and kids under eight—to avoid eating freshwater fish caught in our thousands of lakes and ponds.
When mercury enters the food chain, wildlife are unable to rid themselves of the neurotoxic metal. Mercury can severely damage the neurological and hormonal systems of vertebrate species and can impact their development. Even doses that are too low to kill an animal outright can have other impacts that reduce its ability to survive or produce viable offspring.
Why it matters:
- Coal-fired power plants are the biggest source of airborne mercury, accounting for nearly 70% of the mercury American people and wildlife are exposed to every day.
- The existing standards are a success story, having achieved a 90% reduction in mercury pollution from power plants and cleaned up dangerous particle pollution at the same time. The proposed update would strengthen these vital safeguards to further cut deadly mercury and other pollution that threatens our health, air, water, and wildlife.
- Specifically, by 2035, the new standards would cut pollution and protect people from 82 pounds of mercury, 800 tons of fine particulate matter, 8,700 tons of NOx, and 5 million tons of CO2.
- Cleaning up mercury and other air toxics is projected to lead to $170 to $220 million in annualized health benefits and a further $170 million in annualized climate co-benefits.
Power Plant Rule
What: The EPA is proposing Clean Air Act pollution standards that will limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal, existing gas, and new gas power plants.
Background: Power plants are responsible for roughly a quarter of the climate pollution in the U.S. Warming temperatures due to climate change are harming fisheries and waterfowl, and diseases and invasive species that affect wildlife are proliferating. Climate change is also driving more frequent and intense extreme weather events. From hurricanes to heat waves to flooding to drought, communities across the country are experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis firsthand. To top it off, the cost of climate inaction is costing Americans at least $5,230 per second.
Why it matters:
- This rule proposes long-overdue limits curbing climate-disrupting pollution from power plants, which will immediately improve air quality and help fight climate change while we transition to clean energy.
- This rule will result in steep reductions in climate pollution, but it will give states and companies a large degree of flexibility in how they get there, ensuring a smooth transition to clean energy.
- Limiting carbon emissions from power plants reduces co-emitted air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and more that are linked to serious health issues, such as heart disease, asthma, bronchitis, cancer, emergency room visits, and premature deaths in neighboring communities.
- Deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a discernible slowdown in global warming within around two decades, and to discernible changes in air quality within a few years.
-Anya Fetcher, Federal Policy Advocate