The Trump administration on Friday said limits on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants were unnecessary as they were too costly, sparking an outcry from environmentalists who feared the next step would be looser rules favoring the coal industry at the expense of public health. The rule, which acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed Thursday, is expected to appear in the federal register in the coming weeks.
In a statement, the EPA said Friday the administration was "providing regulatory certainty" by more accurately estimating the costs and benefits of the Obama administration crackdown on mercury and other toxic emissions from smokestacks.
Research shows that when coal is burned, it releases mercury into the air, posing a health risk, particularly for babies developing in the womb and young children.
The proposal, which now goes up for public comment before any final administration approval, would leave the current mercury regulation in place. The new rule will not factor in the harder-to-quantify benefits linked to preventing those health consequences. That came not from curbing mercury itself but from the reduction in particulate matter linked to heart and lung disease that also occurs when cutting mercury emissions. In a letter to the EPA last summer, utilities and regulatory and labor groups said mercury emissions had been reduced by almost 90 percent over the past decade. Mercury harms children and causes severe health damage.
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule has been in place for years, and energy companies that own coal-fired power plants are already in compliance.
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Critics worry that revising the way the costs and health benefits of regulations are calculated could undermine the justification for a range of other environmental rules as well, possibly making them more vulnerable to legal challenge.
"Although an analysis of all benefits and costs in accordance with generally recognized benefit-cost analysis practices is appropriate for informing the public about the potential effects of any regulatory action. this does not mean that equal consideration of all benefits and costs, including co-benefits, is appropriate for the specific statutory appropriate and necessary finding called for under CAA section 112 (n)(1)(A)."It would consider only the benefits that can be directly translated into dollars and cents.
"The administrator has concluded that the identification of these benefits is not sufficient, in light of the gross imbalance of monetized costs", the EPA announcement read.
Groups were quick to criticize the move, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center, as well as Democratic Rep. "It's a very different calculus".