EPA proposes making it harder to limit mercury emissions

EPA proposes easing regulation of mercury from coal plants

President Donald Trump's administration announced Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency is relaxing Obama-era rules preventing coal-fired power plants from releasing mercury and other unsafe pollutants into the air.

It took 21 years before the EPA finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for coal-fired power plants.

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. It calculates that the crackdown on mercury and other toxins from coal plants produced only a few million dollars a year in measurable health benefits and was not "appropriate and necessary" - a legal benchmark under the country's landmark Clean Air Act.

In a statement, the EPA said it is "providing regulatory certainty by transparently and accurately taking account of both costs and benefits". 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.

Environmental advocacy groups criticized the move, while the National Mining Association praised it. Mercury can cause brain damage, learning disabilities and birth defects in children, as well as problems for women during pregnancy.

The public will have 60 days to comment on it before a final rule is issued.

The vast majority of utility companies, which estimate they have already spent about $18 billion installing clean-air technology since the rule was imposed, have said the proposed changes are now of little benefit to them and have urged the Trump administration to leave the measure in place. "With this proposal, EPA has made a decision to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and all Americans will suffer as a result", said Carper.

If adopted, the change would prevent regulators from calculating positive health effects - known as "co-benefits" - that come from reducing pollutants other than those being targeted.

Therefore the new EPA analysis states the health benefits of mercury reduction lies between $4 million and $6 million.

A proposal by acting EPA Administrator, Andrew R. Wheeler, signed yesterday and submitted by the the EPA would lay the ground work for repealing Mercury and Air Toxics Standards first enacted in 2011 according to the New York Times.

But the coal industry has blamed the MATS rules for killing the power plants it sells to.

Janet McCabe, a former air-quality official in the Obama administration's EPA, called the proposal part of "the quiet dismantling of the regulatory framework" for the federal government's environmental protections.

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