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EPA Mercury and Air Toxics Standards Public Hearing - EEN Testimony

Power plant releasing smoke and emissions

The following is the written testimony of EEN President and CEO Rev. Mitch Hescox from the EPA Public Hearing on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) held on February 24, 2022:

"But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream! Amos 5:24 (NIV)

It’s past time to restore justice and re-establish the integrity of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Evangelical Environmental Network and its community strongly support the above referenced rulemaking and the finding that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard is both appropriate and necessary.

As evangelical Christians, we believe that all human life is sacred, that each person conceived is of equal and innate value and dignity, and that all human life is worthy of protection. At the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), we are pro-life from conception to natural death – a theology we share with the National Association of Evangelicals, but also one we share with Catholic social teaching and the guidance of Pope Francis in his encyclical letter, Laudato si', on care for our common home.

We believe that each child has the right “to fulfill their God given potential,” what Jesus called “abundant life” (John 10:10). Jesus was not just referring to a spiritual connection but to a holistic understanding of well-being, of body and soul together. Jesus was especially concerned about vulnerable populations being denied abundant life. “Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’” (Matthew 19:14) Our commitment to Jesus Christ compels us to do all we can to protect unborn children from mercury poisoning. It is a pro-life concern, plain and simple.

Today’s hearing—and the May 22, 2020 finding that it is not appropriate and necessary to regulate coal- and oil-fired electric utility steam generating units (EGUs) under Clean Air Act (CAA) section 112 for mercury—should not have been needed and have, in fact, been an injustice to children both born and unborn and a blemish on the integrity of the EPA under the previous Administration. The basis for the not appropriate and necessary finding was built on at least falsehoods and untruths, and at worst, lies designed to deceive the American Public by negating the EPA’s ability to righty use co-benefits in analysis of a standard’s worthiness.

On September 26, 2018 at the Clean Air Act Advisory Committee Meeting, Mr. William Wehrum, then Assistant Administrator of the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation, said the entire MATS review was being undertaken to satisfy the Supreme Court. Mr. Andrew Wheeler, then Acting EPA Administrator, during a meeting of faith leaders at EPA Headquarters on December 4, 2018, said much the same thing as I presented him with a letter from over 100 evangelical leaders protesting the planned MATS revision. (This same response was reported in the New Times and elsewhere.)[1] These comments were publicly repeated many times including Mr. Wheeler’s testimony during his Senate EPW Confirmation Hearing.

However, the truth remains that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld MATS in its entirety, including the “appropriate and necessary” finding.[2]  In Michigan v. EPA, 135 S. Ct. 2699 (2015), the Supreme Court ruled that EPA had erred in not considering costs in making the “appropriate and necessary” finding. Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia stated that the Court was not requiring a formal cost-benefit analysis. Instead, the majority expressly left it to the EPA to determine how to take account of costs and make the comparison to benefits. Then the DC Circuit court, without staying MATS, remanded the “approximate and necessary” finding to the EPA for reconsideration of the costs. The EPA updated the cost accounting and issued a supplemental finding in April 2016.[3] In keeping with the Clean Act Air as revised, EPA in promulgating the MATS rule followed the law as written by Congress and interpreted by the Courts – no further action required.

In keeping with our commitment to the sanctity of life, well over 4 million pro-life Christians in the past few years have acted in support of our efforts to defend children’s health from pollution’s impacts, including over 145,000 who supplied comments against rolling back the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) during the ill-fated 2018/2020 rule making. In addition, over 120 evangelicals signed a letter to that effect to Wheeler on December 4, 2018.

We have a moral and Biblical mandate to defend the health of all God’s children, including the estimated 108,000 Americans who die each year from air pollution.[4] Between 15,000 and 30,000 preterm births occur due to exposure to PM2.5 alone, costing approximately $4.33 billion to the United States economy — with 33% of these children dying at birth or shortly after.[5]

The most damaging aspect of the 2020 rule is the exclusion of co-benefits or ancillary benefits from the rule’s cost-benefit analysis. This contradicts guidelines from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) to federal agencies issued by the George W. Bush administration in 2003, which state: “Your analysis should look beyond the direct benefits and direct costs of your rule-making and consider any important ancillary benefits and countervailing risks.” When looking at the costs and benefits to society of a regulation, it makes little sense to ignore certain benefits because of how they are labeled. From society’s perspective, from the perspective of human health, they’re simply benefits and must be restored in Docket ID No. EPA–HQ– OAR–2018–0794 and for all future rule makings.

Now consider this moral failure in the context of the Palmist’s words:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well. – Psalm 139: 13-14 (NIV)

Before the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard became law, approximately 1 in 6 children in the United States were born with threatening levels of mercury.[6] Mercury impairs neurological development, lowers IQ, and is associated with cardiovascular disease and a host of other potential adverse health impacts. Before MATS in 2008, the IQ loss caused by methylmercury toxicity cost society an average of $5.1 billion ($3.2 of $8.4 billion).[7] Over 1000 published medical journal articles verify mercury's health impacts, and no level of mercury in the human body is safe.[8] These adverse conditions result from eating foods containing methylmercury, primarily contaminated fish. Mercury deposition and entrance into the food chain is also well documented, as is the fact that 48% of our domestic mercury sources remain coal-fired utilities.[9] After mercury is emitted from power plants, it is deposited back to the earth where it can be converted to methylmercury, a highly toxic form that magnifies up food chains, reaching concentrations in fish that are 10 to 100 million times greater than concentrations in water.[10]

When it comes to the health impacts of pollution, children are not little adults. Their developing bodies leave them more vulnerable. This is especially true with mercury pollution. The most at-risk are unborn children and infants, mainly because the body’s natural defense, the blood brain barrier, is not yet fully developed. Pregnant women who consume fish and shellfish contaminated with mercury transmit mercury to their developing unborn children, and infants can ingest mercury in breast milk. Unlike adults, unborn children have no way to excrete mercury. The toxin just keeps circulating inside their mother’s womb, increasing their exposure (bioaccumulation). Medical research shows that mercury in umbilical cord blood is twice that of the mothers’ blood.[11] Therefore, even if a mother’s blood stays below the “risk level” doses, the unborn child’s may not.

And the good news is MATS works! Since EPA’s original Regulatory Impact Analysis (2011), mercury pollution from power plants has declined by 85%[12] with 99.9% of coal plants in compliance. The number of women with damaging mercury levels has decreased by at least 34%, and the estimated number of children born in the U.S. each year with prenatal exposure to methylmercury levels that exceed the EPA reference dose has declined by half.[13] This has been accomplished at a fraction of the original estimated cost[14] with over $418 billion in lifetime benefits from mercury reduction alone (not including those of co-pollutants). These lifetime benefits are much greater than the estimates from the original rule.[15] However, the work stays incomplete. Mercury fish consumption advisories are still in all 50 states, and at least 200,000 children are still neurologically impacted each year from mercury, costing $4.8 billion per year to our society.[16] 

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards cover the most dangerous substances emitted by coal plants. In addition to mercury, MATS reduces chromium and nickel, both of which both cause cancer; and hydrochloric acid gas, which causes serious lung disease. These substances can be harmful even in small quantities, and power plants are the nation’s primary emitters.

With MATS’ proven success in both benefits and compliance costs, it is past time to restore the appropriate and necessary finding. We strongly recommend that the finding be reinstated as soon as possible to defend our children and their God-given right to an abundant life."



[2] White Stallion Energy Ctr., LLC v. EPA, 748 F.3d 1222 (D.C. Cir. 2014), rev'd sub nom. Michigan v. EPA, 135 S. Ct. 2699 (2015).

[3] Supplemental Finding That It Is Appropriate and Necessary To Regulate Hazardous Air Pollutants From Coal- and Oil-Fired Electric Utility Steam Generating Units, 81 Fed. Reg. 24420 (April 25, 2016).

[4]Christopher W. Tessum, Joshua S. Apte, Andrew L. Goodkind, Nicholas Z. Muller, Kimberley A. Mullins, David A. Paolella, Stephen Polasky, Nathaniel P. Springer, Sumil K. Thakrar, Julian D. Marshall, and Jason D. Hill. Inequity in consumption of goods and services adds to racial–ethnic disparities in air pollution exposure. PNAS March 26, 2019, 116 (13) 6001-6006; first published March 11, 2019,

[5] Teresa M Attina, Russ Hauser, Sheela Sathyanarayana, Patricia A Hunt, Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, John Peterson Myers, Joseph DiGangi,R Thomas Zoeller, Leonardo Trasande, Particulate Matter Exposure and Preterm Birth: Estimates of U.S. Attributable Burden and Economic Costs, Environ Health Perspect. 2016 Dec; 124(12): 1913–1918. Published online 2016 Mar 29. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1510810.

[6]Mahaffey et al., "Blood Organic Mercury and Dietary Mercury Intake" Environmental Health Perspectives, April 2004: p. 112. See also Trasande, et al., “Public Health and Economic Consequences of Methyl Mercury Toxicity to the Developing Brain,” Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 113, No. 5 (May 2005): p. 590.

[7] Trasande, et al, “Publich Health and Economic Consequences of Methyl Mercury Toxicity to the Developing Brain.”

[8] Grandjean, P. and Bellanger, M. 2017. Calculation of the disease burden associated with environmental chemical exposures: application of toxicological in health economic estimation

[9] Streets, D.G., Horowitz, H.M., Lu, Z., Levin, L., Thackray, C.P., Sunderland, E.M., Global And Regional Trends In Mercury Emissions And Concentrations, 2010–2015, Atmospheric Environment,

[10] Driscoll, C.T.; Han, Y-J; Chen, C.; Evers, D.; Lambert, K.F.; Holsen, T.; Kamman, N.; and Munson, R. 2007. Mercury Contamination on Remote Forest and Aquatic Ecosystems in the Northeastern U.S.: Sources, Transformations, and Management Options. BioScience. 57(1):17-28.

[11] Lederman, et al., “Relation between Cord Blood Mercury Levels and Early Child Development in a World Trade Center Cohort,” Environmental Health Perspectives, August 2008: p. 1085-1091.

[12] 4U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 2018.

[13] Rice, G.E.; Hammitt, J.K; and Evans, J.S. 2010. A probabilistic characterization of the health benefits of reducing methyl mercury intake in the United States. Environ Sci Technol. 1;44(13):516-24. DOI:10.1021/es903359u.

[14] Declaration of James E. Staudt, Ph.D. CFA, September 24, 2015, White Stallion Energy Center, et al., v. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Case No. 12-1100 and Summary plus cases, Exhibit 1 Declaration of James E. Staudt, Ph.D., CFA, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

[15]Streets, D.G.; Horowitz, H.M.; Lu, Z.; Levin, L.; Thackray, C.P.; Sunderland, E.M. Global, and regional trends in mercury emissions and concentrations, 2010-2015. Atmospheric Environment. Accepted.

Sunderland, E.M.; Driscoll, Jr., C.T.; Hammitt, J.K.; Grandjean, P.; Evans, J.S.; Blum, J.D.; Chen, C.Y.; Evers, D.C.; Jaffe, D.A.; Mason, R.P.; Goho, S.; Jacobs, W. 2016. Benefits of Regulating Hazardous Air Pollutants from Coal and Oil-Fired Utilities in the United States. Environmental Science & Technology. 50 (5), 2117-2120. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b00239.

Amanda Giang and Noelle E. Selin, Benefits of mercury controls for the United States, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Dec 2015, 201514395; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1514395113

[16] Grandjean and Bellanger 2017

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