Carper Slams EPA Rollback That Allows Industry to Relax Air Toxic Pollution Controls

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del,), top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, released the following statement after the EPA finalized a rule that abandons the “once in, always in” hazardous air pollution policy.  For almost a quarter century, this policy has ensured that major sources of air toxic emissions continue to meet the Clean Air Act’s requirements throughout their lifetime. According to EPA, the “once in, always in” policy had prevented 1.7 million tons of hazardous air pollution from being released into the environment.


“Today EPA solidified bad policy promoted by the former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, which further prioritizes polluters over people’s lives. By rolling back clean air protections that have been in place for a quarter century, Trump’s EPA is telling major air toxic polluters to turn off installed pollution controls and ignore the health of those living nearby. This decision greenlights the release of thousands more tons of air toxic pollution – air pollution such as benzene and mercury, known to cause cancer and interfere with our children’s brain development – into communities throughout the country. This decision will do nothing to help our economy. Instead it will inflict wide-ranging harm to human health, especially in communities located near major sources of pollution, which are disproportionately communities of color.


“The Trump EPA’s efforts to ensure fewer costs for industry come a high cost for human health. We can never forget that the Trump EPA finalized this clean air rollback – one in which EPA itself has acknowledged is likely to lead to higher levels of deadly air pollution – during our national battle against a deadly respiratory pandemic. It is shameful. For 50 years, EPA’s primary mission has been to protect human health and the environment. Especially now, at a time when breathing clean air is a matter of life or death, Americans deserve an EPA that heeds its mission. It’s that simple, and yet, from the Trump Administration, it’s clearly too much to ask.”


Through EPA’s “once in, always in policy,” coal-fired power plants, oil and gas refineries and other major sources of hazardous air pollutants were required to meet Clean Air Act standards and they could not increase their air toxic emissions. Today’s decision abandons this logical interpretation of the Clean Air Act, which has been in place for a quarter century. The agency has done so despite its own analysis that suggests that polluters are likely to turn off their air toxic control technology in response to this rule change—ensuring higher levels of arsenic, lead, mercury and other harmful toxics into the air we breathe and into our environment as a result. According to a 2017 EPA fact sheet, the air toxics maximum achievable control technology (MACT) program with “once in, always in” had resulted in the elimination of 1.7 million tons of hazardous air pollution.


On January 25, 2018, EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation issued new guidance to abruptly reverse the longstanding “once in, always in” policy. On March 14, 2018, Senator Carper and Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) led a letter urging EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to reinstate “once in, always in.”


On June 25, 2019, EPA proposed to permanently change “once in, always in.” On August 15, 2019, Senator Carper submitted testimony to EPA in opposition to the agency’s proposal.