The Trump administration is advancing a proposal that could weaken the legal justification behind a major 2011 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule limiting mercury pollution.
EPA spokesman John Konkus on Monday said that the proposed change was sent to the White House on Friday for review by Office of Management and Budget, as the New York Times first reported Sunday.
It is the final step before the rule change can be released to the public for comment.
The rule would be yet another in a string of regulatory changes that could greatly benefit the coal industry.
The proposal wouldn’t repeal the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, which at an estimated compliance cost of $9.6 billion, is the most costly rule in the EPA’s history. It has been blamed for shutting down scores of coal-fired power plants.
Instead, it would change the cost-benefit analysis by removing “co-benefits,” or benefits that the regulation brought from reducing air pollutants that were not directly regulated.
The Trump administration believes it is improper to count those benefits in the cost-benefit analysis. The Obama administration estimated the rule would bring more than $80 billion in benefits, but the mercury-related gains were only a small part of that at about $4 million.
“The draft proposed rule sent to OMB is aimed at correcting the agency’s approach to weighing costs and benefits consistent with the [Supreme] Court’s direction,” Konkus said.
“It is not intended to roll-back or reduce important health protections associated with the continued reduction of mercury.”
The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the EPA broke the law because it did not do a cost-benefit analysis before it decided to write the mercury regulation. But the high court let the rule stay in place.
The change to the co-benefit calculation would have reverberations throughout the EPA’s entire air pollution regulatory regime, since past rule frequently relied on those benefits. Such a shift could make it harder to impose new regulations and easier to justify rolling back existing ones.