Trump EPA Says Mercury Limits On Coal Plants Too Costly, Not 'Necessary'

01 January, 2019, 10:13 | Author: Ann Santiago
  • Spencer Platt  Getty Images North America

The Trump administration will consider abolishing a regulation that has helped to dramatically reduce mercury pollution from coal-fired power stations, saying the costs outweigh the health benefits.

Since former President Barack Obama enacted the mercury regulations--known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards-- scientists say mercury pollution from power plants has declined more than 80 percent nationwide.

In announcing the new proposed rule, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement that the costs of cutting mercury from power plants "dwarfs" the monetary benefits.

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The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to change the way the government calculates benefits of restricting mercury emissions from coal plants.

Consequently, the Trump Administration's EPA is leaving the current MATS rule in place while undercutting the justification for the rule in such a way that could preclude more stringent mercury standards in the future, and could possibly set the stage for looser rules in the future. Mercury emitted into the air can end up in soil and water, where it has "toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes", in addition to causing developmental defects in children and babies, according to the World Health Organization. Coal power plants in this country are the largest single manmade source of mercury pollutants, which enters the food chain through fish and other items that people consume.

With this action, EPA is also setting a risky precedent that a federal agency - charged with protecting the environment and public health - will no longer factor in all the clear health, environmental and economics benefits of clean air policies, such as reducing cancer and birth defects.

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"There is nobody who operates power plants who is asking for the rule to go away", said Jeffrey R. Holmstead, a partner at the law firm Bracewell who served as EPA air chief under the second President George Bush.

"Once again, the Trump administration is acting in a way that will adversely affect the health and safety of those living from coast to coast".

The Obama administration also broadly accepted that it's hard to put a specific dollar-figure on some health benefits - for instance, avoiding lost IQ points in infants (or other fetal harm), which has been linked to pregnant women eating mercury-contaminated fish. It's the latest administration effort on behalf of the country's coal industry. Weeks called the EPA's estimates outdated and said more recent research finds billions of dollars in public health benefits from reducing mercury emissions alone.

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