Sunday, October 2, 2011

House Bills Repeal, Gut Safeguards Against Mercury & Toxic Air Pollution From Cement Plants, Incinerators, Boilers; Would Allow More Premature Deaths, Asthma Attacks

John Walk
Posted September 30, 2011

The week of October 2nd, two bills aimed at blocking critical health protections against mercury and other toxic air pollution from incinerators and boilers (H.R. 2250) [pdf] and cement plants (H.R. 2681) [pdf] are expected to be brought up for a House floor vote. These bills continue the deadly trend of the Cantor Pollution Plan – rolling back clean air safeguards and putting millions of American lives at risk.

Last week saw adoption of the most extreme attack on the Clean Air Act ever to pass the House, legislation called the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401). This Act repeals and blocks smog, soot, mercury and air toxics standards for power plants that would save over 130,000 lives and avoid over 1 million asthma attacks.

Like the TRAIN Act does with power plants, H.R. 2250 and H.R. 2681 nullify existing clean air standards for cement plants, incinerators and industrial boilers that collectively number in the thousands emitting mercury, arsenic, lead and cancer-causing toxins into our communities. Then these two bills allow the indefinite delay of compliance with these toxic air pollution standards, providing no guarantee of reductions even within a decade. Both bills forbid EPA from issuing final standards for these facilities for 15 months and also eliminate any deadlines by which industrial polluters must meet final standards once they are issued.

Even more irresponsibly, these bills severely weaken the Clean Air Act and overturn multiple federal court decisions to gut strong toxic air pollution standards that under current law must be applied to achieve deep cuts in dangerous mercury, lead, dioxins and acid gases from these facilities. See pages 10-13 and 16-17 of my Congressional testimony opposing the 2 bills here [pdf].

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has testified that weakening changes to the Clean Air Act included in the TRAIN Act – changes that are essentially identical to provisions in the cement, incinerator, and boiler bills -- “weaken and possibly destroy our ability to ever address those toxins, toxic pollutants” like “mercury and arsenic and lead and hydrochloric acid.” [Video testimony, starting at minute 50:50].

Cement plants and industrial boilers are two of the largest industrial emitters of mercury in the United States. Giving these industries a free pass, while over 100 other industries have already controlled their toxic pollution makes no sense and will seriously harm Americans’ health.

Incinerators and industrial boilers spew toxic air pollution such as cancer-causing dioxins, arsenic, and mercury and lead, which harm children’s brains. EPA is currently reconsidering toxic air pollution standards for these facilities and expects to finalize them by April of 2012. H.R. 2250 blocks critical health protections against mercury and toxic air pollution that are already a decade overdue. The bill blocks final standards by a minimum of 3.5 more years.

Cement plants also spew mercury and other deadly toxic air pollution. EPA finalized toxic air pollution standards for cement plants one year ago, in September 2010. These standards already are thirteen years overdue, and H.R. 2681 would further delay standards by a minimum of 4.5 years.
Both bills, however, then gratuitously repeal longstanding Clean Air Act compliance deadlines, thereby allowing actual compliance with any future standards to be delayed indefinitely. As summarized below, these delays will result in vastly more asthma attacks, more illness, and more avoidable deaths.

According to EPA’s analysis [pdf], as summarized in a recent White House blog, these two bills collectively would mean, at a minimum:
  • 32,500 more premature deaths;
  • 19,500 additional heart attacks; and
  • 208,000 asthma attacks that otherwise would have been avoided.

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