WE ACT for Environmental Justice Statement on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Changes to Mercury and Air Toxics Standards


April 20, 2020

CONTACT: Dana Johnson, 773-495-1677, dana@weact.org 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Trump administration and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  administrator, Andrew Wheeler, began finalizing a plan to undermine the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Kerene N. Tayloe, Esq, Director of Federal Legislative Affairs at WE ACT for Environmental Justice, responded to this action: 

“Our communities have long endured living close to sources of heavy pollution, including coal- and oil-burning power plants, and continue to experience greater exposure to mercury and many more dangerous pollutants. Currently, 2 in 5 Latinos live within 30 miles of a power plant, and 68 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Communities of color and low-income and Indigenous Peoples will be at risk for negative health impacts in the aftermath of weakening MATS. And the severity of the impacts will be exacerbated in times of crisis as we are now experiencing with the coronavirus disease.  

It is concerning that environmental and social justice advocates must constantly fight this concerted effort by the Trump Administration to put the needs of industry before the protection of our health. MATS protects us from pollution. Why is removing that protection even a consideration? Especially at a time when there is evidence that links poor air quality to disproportionately high infection and death rates from coronavirus disease within Black and Brown communities?  

Since it was introduced, MATS has resulted in $18 billion of investment by industry to comply. These investments (parallel state requirements and other Clean Air Act programs) and non-environmental drivers have reduced mercury emissions by nearly 90 percent during the past decade. The data is clear: The rule works. Why is Andrew Wheeler weakening it when his agency’s data shows it saves lives?

Is the goal to prioritize the interests of industry influencers, such as Bob Murray of Murray Energy, where Andrew Wheeler once worked? Why isn’t our focus on continuing to gain ground in preventing 11,000 premature deaths; 5,000 heart attacks; or 130,000 asthma attacks that are associated with keeping MATS in place? Are coal profits more important than the financial and emotional toll associated with 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits because of poor living conditions?

This action is further confirmation that the Trump Administration is more concerned with industry profits as opposed to the health and welfare of mothers, children and the elderly. These are the populations that the EPA must prioritize.”

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WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan membership-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by ensuring that people of color and/or low-income residents participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT has offices in New York and Washington, D.C. Visit us at weact.org and follow us on Facebook,  Twitter and Instagram.

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