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Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks Finalizing of the Mercury and Air Toxics for Power Plants at Children’s Medical Center in Washington, D.C., As Prepared

12/21/2011
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As prepared for delivery.

Thank you all for being here. I am glad to be here to mark the finalization of a clean air rule that has been 20 years in the making – and is now ready to start improving our health, protecting our children, and cleaning up our air. I’m proud to announce that last week, the EPA finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants. Under the Clean Air Act, these standards will require American power plants to put in place proven and widely available pollution control technologies to cut harmful emissions of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases.

In and of itself, this is a great victory for public health – especially for the health of our children. But let me take a moment to talk about what this means in a broader context. Looking back at the last 12 months in Washington – and the last few weeks especially – it is easy to focus on the partisan politics and gridlock. It is easy to become disheartened and believe that none of the people’s business is getting done. That makes it all the more important to acknowledge the real and significant progress that’s been made for the American people. And clean air protection is one such example of real and important progress.

That is not just because of the rule we unveil today. The fact is, 2011 has been a banner year for clean air. To name just a few examples – this summer President Obama announced the extension of the clean cars program, which will reduce emissions from vehicles driving our roads each day. It will also of course save drivers money and cut oil consumption. In good news for our economy, the clean cars program is already sparking innovation and new jobs in the auto industry. Also this year, the EPA finalized the Cross State Air Pollution Rule. That rule prevents harmful air pollution in one state from moving downwind and threatening people’s health in other states. The “Cross State Rule” is literally a life saver. It will prevent as many as 34,000 premature deaths by reducing health threats in downwind states that are home to some 240 million Americans.

I’m proud to say that we are closing out 2011 with our biggest clean air action yet – Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that will protect millions of American families and, most importantly, millions of children from air pollution. Before this rule, there were no national standards limiting the amount of mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and acid gases that power plants across the country could release into the air we breathe. Mercury is a neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to children. Emissions of mercury and other toxics have been linked to damage to the developing nervous system, respiratory illnesses and other diseases. MATS will require power plants to install emissions controls that also reduce particle pollution, which has been linked to premature death and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. By cutting those emissions, MATS will provide between $37 billion and $90 billion in health benefits for the American people. Once the rule is fully implemented in 2016, it will prevent up to: 11,000 premature deaths; 4,700 heart attacks; and 3,100 Emergency Room visits among children. MATS will also help reduce sick days in the workforce by 540,000, and cut cases of aggravated asthma among children by 130,000 cases.

That last point is especially important to me. I understand the importance of Clean Air protections like MATS in very profound ways, because both of my sons have struggled with asthma. Fifteen years ago, my youngest son spent his first Christmas in the hospital fighting to breathe. And like any parent of a child with asthma, I can tell you that the benefits of clean air protections like MATS are not just statistics or abstract concepts. Behind all the numbers are pregnant mothers who can rest a little easier that their children won’t be exposed to harmful levels of mercury in critical development stages. When we talk about cutting hundreds of thousands of cases of respiratory symptoms, we’re talking about young people who can go outside and be with their friends, without the worry that they will be struggling to breathe. When we talk about reducing mercury levels in our environment, we’re talking about lower amounts of mercury in the fish Americans eat every day. We’re talking about the fact that coming generations will grow up exposed to lower amounts of toxic pollution in the air they breathe.

And on another very important point, we’re talking about thousands of opportunities for American workers. Not only will MATS provide health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, it will also support jobs and innovation for our economy. To meet the MATS standards over the coming years, many power plants will upgrade to modern and widely available pollution control technology. Right now there are about 1,100 coal-fired units across the country covered by MATS, and about 40 percent do not use advanced pollution controls to limit emissions. Increased demand for scrubbers and other advanced pollution controls will mean increased business for American companies that lead the way in producing pollution control technology. But that’s just the start. Power plants making upgrades will need workers to build, install, operate and maintain the pollution controls. As the CEO of one of the largest coal-burning utilities in the country recently said about cutting pollution with new technology: “Jobs are created in the process – no question about that.” The EPA estimates that new demand will support 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term jobs to meet those needs.

To sum up – the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will protect millions of families and children from harmful and costly air pollution, provide the American people with health benefits that far outweigh the costs of compliance, and support job creation and innovation that are good for our economy. American families across the country – including my own – will benefit from the simple fact of being able to breathe cleaner air. While our children and future generations will have healthier air to breathe because of the gift of cleaner air, and all that we have accomplished in this historic year for clean air protection.

That is what environmental protection and the work of the EPA is all about. Thank you very much.