Washington, D.C. – Today the Natural Resources Council of Maine (NRCM) filed suit in the federal Court of Appeals challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recent decision to remove power plants from the list of industrial pollution sources requiring strict controls for mercury and other toxic air pollutant emissions.
“Merely declaring that mercury is not hazardous does not reduce the harm it is doing to our children,” said Jon Hinck, attorney with NRCM. “EPA’s rule paves the way for more mercury in the air, in the water, and in fish we eat. This is a major problem, particularly since under the EPA plan the older, most polluting plants may completely escape clean up. Recent studies show that mercury concentrations keep growing near these older plants poisoning nearby fish and wildlife.”
“The rule is simply illegal,” said Ann Brewster Weeks, attorney and Litigation Director for the Clean Air Task Force, a public interest law organization that will represent NRCM in the federal court. “Under the Clean Air Act, the EPA was required to develop rules limiting toxic air emissions from power plant smokestacks to the maximum achievable extent. Instead they have finalized a rule effectively letting the utilities off the hook.”
The 1990 Clean Air Act requires that EPA set the most protective limits on toxic air emissions like mercury, arsenic and cadmium as are technically feasible. In the United States, coal-burning power plants are the largest unregulated source of mercury to the air. The electric utility industry releases about 46 tons per year of this pollutant, and more than 350,000 tons per year total of all air toxics.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can affect the brain development of babies in the womb, and young children causing significant learning problems. Mercury emissions settle onto the land and water, where it changes chemically and is taken up into the food chain. More than 40 states have issued fish advisories telling women of childbearing age and young children to restrict consumption of fresh water fish due to mercury contamination. One in six women of childbearing age has mercury levels in her blood that are unsafe for her baby. This means, nationwide, as many as 630,000 infants are exposed each year to mercury levels that put them at risk of serious cognitive and developmental harm.
“We bring this case out of our concern for future generations of Mainers and to get toxic chemicals like mercury out of the food we eat,” said NRCM’s Hinck.
Today’s lawsuit is one of several filed by conservation organizations, including EarthJustice, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council. These cases join at least a dozen states, which already have sought review of the EPA rule.