Colin Durrant, CLF Director of Communications
Washington, D.C. (February 8, 2008) – A federal appeals court today ruled that the Bush Administration’s rules allowing coal-and oil-fired power plants to avoid making deep mandatory cuts in mercury and other toxic air pollution violates the law. The court’s decision invalidates the so-called “Clean Air Mercury Rules,” which would have allowed dangerously high levels of mercury air pollution to persist under a weak cap-and-trade program for utilities that would not have taken full effect until well beyond 2020. EPA’s rules further would have allowed coal- and oil-fired power plants also to avoid controls on any of other air toxics they emit, which include arsenic, lead, hydrogen chloride, and nickel.
The Conservation Law Foundation, a New England environmental group that was a petitioner to the suit, today celebrated the Court’s decision. Fourteen states, including Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, dozens of Native American tribes, public health and other environmental groups, and organizations representing registered nurses and physicians challenged the EPA’s suite of rules. Today’s ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia strongly rebuked EPA for “following the logic of the Queen of Hearts” in creating an illegal loophole for the power generating industry, rather than applying the toughest emission standards of the Clean Air Act.
“The Court has completely overturned these rules, and we are thrilled with this decision,” said Melissa Hoffer, a Vice-President at the Conservation Law Foundation, “EPA’s rules would have worsened the already high levels of mercury contamination in certain areas here in the northeast. Our members already experience higher than average mercury emissions, and can’t eat many locally caught fish species because of concern about mercury contamination. Research shows that deep cuts in industrial mercury emissions translate to cleaner lakes and lower levels of mercury in fish and wildlife.”
Power plants spew 48 tons of mercury into the air each year, yet only 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury is needed to contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point where fish are unsafe to eat. Recent research by scientists with the BioDiversity Research Institute confirms that a large area of southern New Hampshire, southern Maine, and northeastern Massachusetts already has significantly higher levels of watershed mercury contamination and contamination in local fish and wildlife, and that local coal-fired power plants are a significant source of the contamination. In addition, EPA estimates that as many as 600,000 babies are born annually with irreversible brain damage because pregnant mothers ate mercury-contaminated fish.
“The court has now told EPA in no uncertain terms to follow the law as it is written. We are looking forward to working on rules that reflect the most stringent controls achievable for this industry, as the Clean Air Act requires,” said Ann Weeks, attorney for Clean Air Task Force who represented Conservation Law Foundation and three other environmental organizations in the case. “That’s what is needed to alleviate the public health issues associated with mercury contamination in New England fish and wildlife.”
The Conservation Law Foundation (www.clf.org) works to solve the most significant environmental challenges facing New England . CLF’s advocates use law, economics and science to create innovaivete strategies to conserve natural resources, protect public health and promote vibrant communities in our region. Founded, in 1966, CLF is a nonprofit, member-supported organization with offices in Maine , Massachusetts , New Hampshire , Rhode Island and Vermont.