EPA reconsiders need for mercury pollution standards at power plants

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced Friday it will reconsider the reasoning behind mercury pollution standards for power plants.
The current standards, implemented under the Obama administration, restrict levels of toxic mercury pollution that has been linked to developmental delays in children among other health risks.
Plants in the past have met the restrictions by implementing on-site controls, but the fossil fuel industry has long lobbied that the standards are too strict.
The end-of-year rule review follows a number of other environmental policy rollbacks proposed by the Trump administration this year, including the weakening of vehicle emission standards, carbon releases from power plants and methane standards for oil and gas drillers.
The current rule on mercury pollution will remain in place as the EPA re-evaluates the government’s argument for the necessity of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).
The agency said it would determine whether a regulation of the hazardous air pollutant emissions for power plants known as HAP is necessary under the law.
“The Agency proposes to determine that it is not “appropriate and necessary” to regulate HAP emissions from power plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act,” EPA said in a statement Friday.
In its review, the Trump administration will also likely be testing whether the agency can skip consideration of the economic benefits of curbing the toxic pollutant when it provides its final reasoning.
The Obama administration, when determining its mercury rule, considered the economic effects of curbing mercury emissions against the societal savings that would occur from slashing other pollutants coming from coal plants that shut down.
The EPA under Obama determined that the costs to the economy ranged from $7.4 billion to $9.6 billion annually but the benefits from regulating the hazardous air pollutant ranged from $4 million to $6 million annually, according to EPA data.
The Trump administration’s new review may be testing whether it must continue to consider such “co-benefits” in future air pollution rules.
Doing so could make pollution standards appear overly costly compared to their environmental benefits.
“The Trump Administration is providing regulatory certainty by transparently and accurately taking account of both costs and benefits in the proposed revised Supplemental Cost Finding for MATS,” read the EPA statement.
Environmentalists and critics reacted harshly to the EPA review, which was released in the final days of 2018 during a government shutdown.
“In a move that’s both stunningly immoral and completely unnecessary, the Trump administration has formally proposed an attack on our nation’s vital protections against some of the most dangerous types of air pollution from coal plants,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.
Krupp said the proposal would undermine the foundations of the safeguards to reduce poisonous coal plant pollutants including lead, arsenic and acid gasses in addition to mercury.
He said the review was troubling because power plants were already largely in compliance with the Obama-era rule, which has lead to a more than 80 percent reduction in mercury pollution.
“Trump’s EPA claims they aren’t undermining the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards themselves, they’re just reconsidering the basis for them. No one can truthfully claim they are demolishing the foundation of a building but they still expect the building to stand. This proposal puts the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in danger, and we need the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to keep our children safe,” he said.
“By releasing this proposal today, Acting Administrator [Andrew] Wheeler can only be attempting to rush an egregious policy before EPA staff are furloughed that is not only wildly unpopular, but also rolls back years of critical protections that keep toxic emissions out of the air we all breathe,” he said in a statement.
“With this action, EPA is also setting a dangerous 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,” Carper said.