Clean Air Now: Federal Register Publishes Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Pro-pollution Sen. Inhofe aims to block life-saving standards

By Arpita Bhattacharyya and Daniel J. Weiss

Americans can celebrate a big step toward cleaner air and healthier communities today as the final  Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants are published in the Federal Register.  This is a significant milestone for the life-saving Environmental Protection Agency rules that were announced on December 16, 2011.  However, these long overdue safeguards from the known neurotoxin mercury continue to face relentless attacks from coal heavy utilities, coal companies and their Congressional allies.  Today, Senator Inhofe (R-OK) filed a Congressional Review Act resolution to block the rule, just as it made it onto the Federal Register.

The Federal Register is the official publication for proposed and final rules.  Publication of the mercury rule begins the implementation process. The rule requires power plants to reduce mercury, lead, arsenic, acid gasses, and other toxic chemicals from their smokestacks.  The huge reduction in toxics would save 11,000 lives, prevent  130,000 asthma attacks  and avoid 4,700 heart attacks annually.   Such drastic health improvements would provide economic benefits of up to $90 billion every year.

Senator Inhofe disregards these important health benefits and calls on his colleagues to join him to “stop EPA’s destructive agenda” through a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act.   The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to completely block rules it opposes.  It works like this:  Once the mercury rule is published in the Federal Register, legislators have sixty legislative days to introduce and vote on it.  According to the Library of Congress, a legislative day begins:

“when a house of Congress meets and ends when it adjourns…the Senate often does not adjourn at the end of a daily session, but instead  ‘recesses,’ so when the Senate next meets, it continues in the same legislative day. As a result, a legislative day in the Senate may extend over days, weeks, or even months.”

In addition, the resolution requires a simple majority of senators voting for it to pass – it cannot be blocked by a filibuster that requires 60 votes to end.

Albert A. Rizzo of the American Lung Association blasted Senator’s Inhofe’s attempt to block the standards, stating that “These safeguards have been delayed for far too long already.  The public cannot wait any longer for these life-saving clean air protections.”

Senator Inhofe will likely have the support of many utilities and coal companies that have ignored the health benefits.  Instead, they want to prevent, weaken or delay these vital safeguards, claiming that the cost of cleanup is simply too high.

The emitters claim that the rules will reduce electricity reliability, increase electricity prices, and increase unemployment.  Many also assert that they don’t have enough time to comply.  The Center for American Progress and other clean air defenders have proven these claims false time and time again.

  • A CAP Analysis found that 22 members of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal industry coalition which is leading the charge against the rule, has nearly $18 billion in cash reserve which could go towards scrubbers and other equipment necessary to slash these pollutants.
  • The Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, Congressional Research Service, and the North American Reliability Corporation have all done analysis showing that the rule will not threaten Americans’ access to reliable electricity.
  • Studies by the Center for American Progress and Ceres found that many of the plants already have the capability to meet the air toxics rule.
  • The EPA concluded that increase in electricity price increase would be relatively small and would actually  account for the harmful costs of pollution on the public.
  • The Economic Policy Institute determined that the rules would yield a net increase of  84,500 direct jobs by 2015.
  • The rules go into effect in 2015 and the utility Exelon has testified that three years is enough time to implement pollution control technology.
  • EPA also makes a fourth year option widely available.
  • Opponents’ predictions of high costs are likely overblown.  History shows that estimates of reductions costs under earlier pollution laws  are always higher than the actual costs.  For instance, In 1989, the EPA calculated that complying with the acid rain program would cost $2.7 billion to $4.0 billion but a decade later, an EPA analysis found that the actual cost was substantially lower at $1 to $2 billion per year.

EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy summed it up best: “For 40 years, we have been able to implement the Clean Air Act, grow the American economy and keep the lights on.”

We will do it again with the Mercury and Air Toxics rule.  It is time for Senators to ignore polluters’ rhetoric and protect the health of our kids, families, and communities by opposing Sen. Inhofe’s Congressional Review Act resolution to block the rules.

Arpita Bhattacharyya is Special Assistant to Distinguished Senior Fellow Carol Browner. Daniel J. Weiss is a Senior Fellow and Director of Climate Strategy at the Center fro American Progress Action Fund.

2 Responses to Clean Air Now: Federal Register Publishes Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

  1. If they try to block these rules it will be an unmitigated publicity disaster, and they will ultimately back down.

  2. M Tucker says:

    Inhofe does not care about children. This is the guy who wanted his own granddaughter to take a swim in a lake coated with blue-green algae.

    Inhofe only cares about Big Oil and King Coal and how much financial support they can give him. He cares nothing about the public or public opinion. A truly evil man.