Trump’s EPA To Weaken Rule Limiting Coal Plant Mercury Emissions

Cristina Cross
December 31, 2018

The 2011 Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, enacted under Barack Obama, the former United States president, led to an estimated $18 billion clean-up of mercury and other toxins from the smokestacks of coal-fired power stations. The new proposal does not look to repeal the rule.

Since August, the Environmental Protection Agency has been reconsidering the justification for the rule.

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.

Reworking the mercury rule, which the EPA considers the priciest clean air regulation ever put forth in terms of annual cost to industry, would represent a victory for the coal industry, and in particular for Robert Murray, an important former client of Wheeler's from his days as a lobbyist.

Yet the EPA move also had its detractors within the industry.

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The islands of Geme and Tabukan Tengah ( Indonesia ) as well as Davao (Philippines) may experience tsunami waves within the hour. A man removes debris from his damaged home in the tsunami-hit village of Carita, Indonesia, Friday, Dec. 28, 2018.

A coalition of electric utilities had said the looser rules were not needed since they have already invested billions of dollars in technology to cut emissions of the pollutant and comply. "A proper consideration of costs under section 112 (n) of the Clean Air Act demonstrates that the total projected costs of compliance with the MATS [Mercury and Air toxic Standards] rule ($7.4 to $9.6 billion annually) dwarfs the monetized HAP benefits of the rule ($4 to $6 million annually)".

A proposal Friday from the Environmental Protection Agency challenges the basis for the Obama regulation. 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. Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage the brain and nervous system in young children, leading to lower IQ and impaired motor skills.

Estimates like that, however, are at the heart of the current dispute.

In arguing for the limits, environmentalists have pointed at unquantifiable benefits such as reduced health care costs, cleaner air and cleaner water. In a draft of its proposed rule (PDF), Trump's EPA said that the Obama-era EPA had erred by quantifying the co-benefits of reducing other, non-mercury pollutants in its analysis.

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