BACKGROUND: The burning of coal, oil, and wood as fuel, can release mercury into the atmosphere. This, in turn, can fall to the ground and pollute rivers and streams. In the United States, power plants that burn coal to generate electricity account for about 42 percent of all manmade mercury emissions. Mercury is a neurotoxin which adversely affects unborn infants' growing brains and nervous systems. Children exposed to methylmercury while they are in the womb can have impacts to their:
- cognitive thinking,
- fine motor skills, and
- visual spatial skills.
In 2011, the EPA estimated that the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule helps to avert 11,000 premature deaths every year and prevent 130,000 asthma attacks and 4,700 heart attacks, while saving up to $90 billion annually in human health costs yet costing utilities only $9.6 billion a year. EPA's cost-benefit analysis included the health benefits of cutting mercury emissions as well as other power plant pollutants including soot and nitrogen oxide. In August of this year, the Trump administration announced it was reviewing the plan and is preparing to gut the rule which could result in a dramatic rise in these harmful emissions and harm the nervous systems of children and fetuses.
In 2011, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) enthusiastically welcomed "a new national standard to reduce mercury and toxic air pollution from power plants is an important step forward to protect the health of all people, especially unborn babies and young children, from harmful exposure to dangerous air pollutants". In a letter to then EPA Administrator Jackson, Bishop Stephen Blaire, then Chairman of the USCCB's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development stated: "A national standard limiting mercury and other toxic air pollution represents an important opportunity to protect the health and welfare of all people, especially our children and poor and vulnerable communities. Applying such a standard would reduce emissions of mercury from power plants by 91 percent marking a significant step forward. Some may attempt to weaken this proposed standard. However, we believe we ought to take prudent and responsible action to protect our children."