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Power Plant Mercury Limits Get Legal Underpinnings Restored (1)

Jan. 31, 2022, 8:09 PMUpdated: Jan. 31, 2022, 8:37 PM

The Biden administration on Monday unveiled plans to restore key language that justifies mercury and air toxics rules, establishing that emission limits for coal-fired plants are “appropriate and necessary.”

That legal finding was tossed under the Trump administration in 2020, a hotly contested move that many argued weakened some of the most powerful clean air and water standards EPA has in its arsenal.

“The previous administration’s attempt to undermine them was unconscionable and unlawful, and we thank EPA for today’s proposal to correct it,” the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association, and other health groups said in a statement on the proposal.

The proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency would affirm cornerstone language of Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS.

“EPA is committed to aggressively reducing pollution from the power sector so that all people, regardless of zip code or amount of money in their pocket, can breathe clean air and live healthy and productive lives,” Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

‘Breathe a Little Easier’

The proposal doesn’t suggest increasing the standards’ stringency, but does leave the door open for future rulemaking. Part of the proposal calls for more information on improving costs and performance of emission control technology, the agency said.

“Fortunately, we can now breathe a little easier knowing that EPA is sticking with what most of us know to be true—clean air is integral to healthy communities and a thriving economy,” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), said in a statement.

Health groups applauded the move, and said they still want more stringent standards.

“President Biden’s EPA must now strengthen the MATS rule,” Patrick Drupp, Sierra Club Deputy Legislative Director for Climate and Clean Air, said in a statement. “No amount of toxic pollution is acceptable in the air we breathe, especially when there are feasible, cost effective means of protecting public health.”

Since the rule’s creation in 2012, power plant emissions of hazardous mercury pollution into the air and water have been reduced by 86%. The emissions can lead to issues including neurological defects and cardiovascular problems.

(Updates story with EPA and expert comment throughout. )

To contact the reporter on this story: Jennifer Hijazi in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rebecca Baker at