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Advocates Criticize EPA Plan To Roll Back Pollution Regs

Air quality in Salt Lake City turns dangerous each winter when a natural air inversion traps pollution from coal-fired power plants and other sources in the atmosphere

Members of Moms Clean Air Force testified Monday before the Environmental Protection Agency over plans to roll back protections on toxic air pollutants. More than 30 moms from 15 states condemned a Trump administration proposal to weaken the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, called MATS, which sets limits on pollution from coal-fired power plants. 
Elizabeth Ewaskio lives in Salt Lake City with her daughter and husband. She told the EPA her family faces the Salt Lake Valley's annual winter atmospheric inversion, which can turn the air quality from fair to dangerous.

"I'm six months pregnant. I have a 3 1/2 year-old and my husband is seriously asthmatic," Ewaskio said. "Raising children in the Salt Lake Valley can be quite guilt-inducing as a parent. So, I'm really concerned with the proposed mercury and other toxic chemicals rollback."

Ewaskio said although the inversion is a natural phenomenon, the presence of four coal-fired power plants in Utah, including one in the Salt Lake Valley, contributes to the poor air quality there during the winter months. The plants emit mercury, a neurotoxic heavy metal that disrupts development of the fetal brain and harms toddlers and adults as well.

The MATS standard was put in place during the Obama administration. But Trump's EPA has claimed, based on a cost-benefit analysis, the rule is neither "appropriate" nor "necessary."

Ewaskio told the EPA pollution from the annual air inversion is an ever-present danger to her family.

"I would say it affects us greatly," she said. "I teach skiing in the winter so that our family can get up into the mountains to breathe the clean air as much as possible. And I planned my pregnancy so that I could be in my second trimester during a particular time of year."

She said rolling back the MATS standards will likely mean an increase in illness and death.

"The MATS standard was implemented in 2011, and we've seen across the country an 80 percent decrease in mercury-related pollution," Ewaskio said; "which has saved approximately 11,000 lives each year."

She added the EPA standards have protected families not only from mercury pollution, but also from other cancer-causing substances such as arsenic, lead, chromium and nickel.