DETOXING: On December 16 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered a ruling, decades in the making, to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. The first of their kind—the bipartisan Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 cut mercury emissions by almost half, but didn’t touch coal-fired power plants—the new rules are expected to yield widespread public health benefits, like preventing up to 11,000 premature air pollution related deaths every year.
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, had been obstructed for years by Congressional Republicans and the fossil fuel lobby. Progress made under the Clinton administration stalled under George W. Bush when the DC Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a proposed cap-and-trade system for mercury emissions. The Obama White House made a renewed commitment to finalize the standards; a deadline was pushed through by environmentalists in 2009.
In anticipation of the EPA’s ruling, climate change denier and ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee James Inhofe introduced the Comprehensive Assessment of Regulations on the Economy Act (CARE), which states that the new standards should be “treated as though the proposed or final rule had never been issued or promulgated” and proposes yet more analyses of pollutants and their effects, further delaying this long-overdue legislation. It’s a negligent move. Mercury is one of the most insidious environmental toxins. It can be passed from mother to fetus, where it can cause neurological defects and delayed development. Yet special-interest groups like the Energy Reliability Coordinating Council have slammed the ruling, arguing that it will cost jobs and bring no new health benefits. The EPA disagrees, estimating that thousands of jobs will be created and more than half a million sick days will be avoided every year. NATASJA SHERIFF
FTA TO LA: FOLLOW CIVIL RIGHTS LAW: On December 12 the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the second-largest transit agency in the country, was found to be in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act by the Federal Transit Administration. Specifically, the FTA’s civil rights division found that the MTA had run afoul of Title VI, which prohibits government agencies from using federal funds in a racially discriminatory manner. The finding was partly the result of a formal complaint filed in November 2010 by local groups, including the Bus Riders Union, Community Action Network, and Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance, arguing that the Metro had inflicted irreparable harm on nearly half a million low-income riders of color by eliminating 1 million service hours and raising bus fares from $52 to $75 over a three-year period. Black and Latino garment and hotel workers, security guards and precariously employed youth spend hours every day waiting for and riding unreliable buses whose fares they often can’t afford. Meanwhile, the MTA is flush with money from a new sales tax being funneled into overpriced rail projects, forgoing a pledge to fund buses as well—all at the expense of bus riders, 90 percent of whom are people of color.