The USCCB supported those regulations when they were proposed in 2011, saying that the pollutants contributed to public health problems such as asthma, cancer, heart disease, learning disabilities, and brain damage. Mercury emissions can contaminate local water supplies and affect the development of young children, the conference said.
In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Michigan v. EPA that the government had to consider costs to power companies when regulating electric utility steam generating units (EGUs), the units containing mercury emissions.
In light of the court's decision, the Trump administration revised cost estimates for regulating EPUs at $7.4 to $9.6 billion annually for coal- and oil-fired power plants. Meanwhile, the EPA estimated the benefits of regulating hazardous air pollutants at the power plants at only $4 to $6 million annually-a fraction of the estimated cost to power companies.
As a result, while keeping the MATS in place, the administration said it "proposes to determine that it is not 'appropriate and necessary' to regulate HAP emissions from power plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act."
The proposed changes, the USCCB warned back in March, would undercut the very purpose of the MATS regulations. Two leading U.S. bishops led the charge against the proposed changes, one of them being the head of the bishops' pro-life committee.
Simmons explained to CNA that, with both the heads of the pro-life and domestic justice committees weighing in, it was a reflection of Laudato Si that "human health" and the "environment" are connected.
Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice, Florida, who chairs the bishops' domestic justice and human development committee, and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, who chairs the bishops' pro-life committee, said in a statement that the original MATS regulations are necessary for public health and the proposed revisions showed a disregard for "human and environmental health."
As the rule was being considered, the USCCB submitted public comments noting that while it did not revoke the MATS standards, it "greatly weakens the legal justification" for them.
"Catholic social doctrine affirms that 'environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits,'" the USCCB said of the move.
Simmons told CNA on Friday that EPA proposed rule "is complex," and while "it doesn't revoke the rule itself," it instead "removes a legal justification for the standards."
The Conference had argued that the standards were indeed necessary for public health, he said.
(Story continues below)
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"We welcome the EPA advocating for safeguarding mercury in a different form," Simmons said of the houses of worship booklet.
Matt Hadro was the political editor at Catholic News Agency through October 2021. He previously worked as CNA senior D.C. correspondent and as a press secretary for U.S. Congressman Chris Smith.