EPA Announces Powerful Air Pollution Safeguards: You Spoke and Lisa Jackson Listened

Written by Amanda Starbuck

Topics: Coal

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As the holidays draw near I’m raising a glass to all of you RAN activists, because—along with hundreds of thousands of clean air advocate allies—you stood up and asked the Environmental Protection Agency to protect our environment and our bodies from toxic pollutants.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the first-ever Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) from Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. yesterday.  The long-awaited air pollution rule promises to prevent 34,000 deaths otherwise caused from toxic pollutants released from power plants including mercury, arsenic, cyanide, nickel, chromium, lead and more.

In making the announcement, Administrator Jackson focused on children’s health issues, including cases of asthma (which her own son is battling), birth defects and impaired brain development caused by mercury in the air.

The U.S. has been waiting a long time for this. It took more than two decades of negotiating and 900,000 public comments (20,000 from RAN activists), but the final MATS rule marks a great step forward for clean air in this country.

The Obama administration has yielded mixed news on the environmental front all year, so it was cheering to hear a strong, bold announcement like this one be issued forth by the EPA despite Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski’s attempts to instill fear in the heart of the public over the new standard’s effect on energy reliability.

Even after two decades of undulating process, Senator Murkowski called the pace of the EPA rulemaking “reckless” when in fact continuing to allow outdated coal plants to operate is much more so. EPA estimates show the new safeguards “will prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks a year. “ If the rule had been finalized ten years ago, would 111,000 people still be living, and 47,000 heart attacks prevented?

The finalized rule will likely affect the future of about 40 percent of coal-fired power plants in the U.S., which operate substandard to the rule’s particulate pollution requirements. The utility companies operating these plants are weighing up the economics of retiring plants versus investing hundreds of millions of dollars in life-extending retrofits for the aging plants.

We have a clear understanding of the negative impacts that burning coal has on our health, economy, and climate. With the solar and wind industries booming, we know how to produce electricity without endangering ourselves. As we head into 2012, it is well past time to phase out of coal entirely and transition to cleaner and renewable energy sources. If you’d like to be a part of that transition, joining RAN’s campaign to shift the biggest U.S. banks away from coal financing and towards clean energy is a great place to start.

Lisa Jackson concluded her press conference at the children’s hospital with some hurdles the EPA encounters,  “If we started hiring engineers instead of lobbyists and scientists instead of lawyers, we [the EPA] would be able to do our job much faster for the American people.” I absolutely agree.

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