NAACP Joins Lawsuit to Defend Mercury and Air Toxics Standards from Industry Attack

On June 13th, a federal court granted the national NAACP permission to intervene in a lawsuit and help defend the Environmental Protection Agency’s new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The NAACP, represented in the intervention by Earthjustice, joins a coalition of 17 national and state public health and environmental groups.

The groups are defending the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which limit emissions of highly toxic air pollutants like mercury, arsenic, and lead emitted by coal- and oil-fired power plants, from an industry lawsuit filed in February 2012 to halt their implementation. Under the 1990 Amendments to the Clean Air Act, these standards are already a decade overdue.

“The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are a common sense step to protect the health and well-being of our communities,” stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. “This is a civil rights issue because people of color and low-income communities are disproportionately exposed to pollution from coal-fired power plants. We will support the Environmental Protection Agency as they defend these long-overdue standards.”

“We are delighted that the NAACP has joined the effort to uphold the EPA’s landmark controls on mercury, arsenic and the many other dangerous toxic pollutants that power plants emit,” said Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen. “Together, we’re committed to a future in which all Americans, regardless of race or economic status, have access to clean air and drinkable water.”

The NAACP passed a resolution last year highlighting the civil rights issues related to clean air, citing the fact that 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Also, an African American family making $50,000 per year is more likely to live next to a toxic facility than a white American family making $15,000 per year.

Power plants are the leading source of human-created mercury emissions. Mercury pollution threatens prenatal development, infants and young children. It can affect their ability to think and learn. The EPA has estimated that every year, more than 300,000 newborn babies may face elevated risk of a learning disability due to exposure to toxic forms of mercury in the womb.

The EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will prevent every year up to 11,000 premature deaths, nearly 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks. Additionally, the standards will help avoid more than 540,000 days when people have to miss work because of health problems associated with power plant pollution. These “sick” days diminish economic productivity and raise health care costs.

The NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Department has been actively advocating for stronger air pollution controls. The department is developing a toolkit to help individuals living in affected communities push for better pollution controls. The toolkit contains educational material, strategy guidelines and models for transitioning to a clean energy economy.

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