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July 20, 2020
Contact: Tom Lalley

Twenty-One State AGs Sue EPA Over Rule that Undermines Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS)

Suit challenges EPA’s finding that it is no longer “appropriate and necessary” to regulate toxic air pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants.

Washington, D.C. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today led a coalition of 21 state attorneys general in filing a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rule issued on April 16 that undercuts the legal basis of its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). The new MATS rule irrationally requires the EPA to no longer take into account the entirety of health benefits that flow from controlling mercury emissions when setting pollution standards, setting a dangerous precedent that could cripple the agency’s air pollution program.
The rule reversed the EPA’s previous finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate coal- and oil-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act.  The agency determined that the cost to industry to comply with the existing MATS outweigh the benefits even though the industry has already invested $18 billion to comply with the rule. In making this determination, the agency willfully ignored not only the direct benefits from reduced mercury emissions — valued at well over $150 billion — but also as much as $90 billion in “co-benefits” from reductions in fine particulate pollution (PM 2.5). Public health gains from the existing standards include the prevention of between 4,000 and 11,000 premature deaths each year, and thousands of hospitalizations and absences from school and work.
“It’s absurd that in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, President Trump is putting the interests of the coal lobby and polluters ahead of the health of the American public,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “This rule is an assault on critical regulations that protect our most vulnerable residents — who are already dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates — from toxic substances and harmful air pollutants. We are suing to defend these important standards that help protect our environment and public health.”
"The Trump Administration is turning a blind eye to the massive benefits of limiting air pollution at a time when our country can least afford it,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “With respiratory illness on the rise, the Trump Administration should be battening down the hatches to ensure that these life-saving standards continue to protect the communities hit first and worst by air pollution. Instead, the Trump Administration has rigged the rulemaking process to prop up dirty power. We’re going to court because we can’t sit back when lives are at stake.”
“We are suing because the EPA is allowing fossil fuel power plants to poison our air, our water, and our children,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh.  “Fossil fuel industries have been complying with the MATS rule for years.  It is absurd to decide that the COVID-19 pandemic (an airborne infectious disease) justifies more air pollution from toxic chemicals.”
The MATS rule was first published in 2012 to regulate emissions of mercury, acid gases and other toxic pollutants from power plants. In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Michigan v. EPA that the EPA must consider compliance costs when determining whether regulations on fossil fuel-fired power plants are “appropriate and necessary,” as required under the Clean Air Act. In 2016, the EPA responded with a supplemental finding confirming that the overall benefits of the MATS rule far outweigh the costs of compliance.
In February 2019, EPA released a proposed rule to reverse the finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” for the EPA to regulate emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plants under the Clean Air Act. Two months later, a coalition of 21 state attorneys general filed extensive comments objecting to the proposed rule.
In the eight years since the MATS rule was finalized, the power industry has invested about $18 billion to achieve compliance with the standards. The power industry is now almost fully compliant and largely opposes the EPA's action.
The attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington, D.C. and Wisconsin, along with the Cities of Baltimore, Chicago, and New York, and Erie County, joined AG Healey in filing the comments.


About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. For more information, visit our website