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April 16, 2020
Contact: Tom Lalley

EPA Guts Legal Foundation of Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS)

New rule paves the way for repeal of emissions limits on mercury and other harmful air pollutants from power plants.

Washington, D.C. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released a final rule that undercuts the legal basis of its Mercury and Toxic Air Standards (MATS), which have driven major reductions of emissions of mercury and other toxic heavy metals from coal- and oil-fired power plants. The rule would provide the EPA with an excuse to weaken restrictions on mercury — one of the most toxic substances on earth. The rule also would irrationally require 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 EPA reversed its previous finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate coal- and oil-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act and determined that the $9.6 billion cost to industry to comply with the existing MATS rule outweighs the benefits. To reach that conclusion, the EPA ignored the direct benefits from reduced mercury emissions — valued at well over $150 billion — and 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.
David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law and former Interior Deputy Secretary in the Obama and Clinton administrations, released the following statement in response to today’s announcement:
“The Trump administration’s final MATS rule represents the triumph of wrong-headed, anti-regulatory ideology over the protection of human health. First, utilities already have put in place the protections called for by the rule, at a lower than anticipated cost. Second, there is no question that power plants’ mercury emissions are extremely dangerous to human health and must be controlled. Third, the notion that a cost-benefit evaluation of a pollution rule can only take into account the benefits associated with controlling a single pollutant (here, mercury) defies logic, longstanding White House guidance and practice, and sound economic principles. The administration is shameless in its interest in improving companies’ bottom lines (by reducing air pollution compliance costs) rather than protecting the health of millions of at-risk Americans.” 
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 commentsobjecting 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.



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. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
For more information, visit our website