EPA expected to issue rule critics say undermines power plant pollution regulation

EPA expected to issue rule critics say undermines power plant pollution regulation

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected on Thursday to finalize a decision that critics say could jeopardize regulations designed to limit pollution from power plants. 

The finalized rule isn’t expected to roll back the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). Instead, it undermines the rule itself, hamstringing the agency from considering the Obama-era “co-benefits” that found the rule would save billions of dollars.

The two administrations have very different interpretations of the same pollution standards. 


The Obama administration said benefits like reducing other toxins from power plants would save consumers as much as $90 billion. But the Trump administration found the rules would save between $4 million and $6 million. They argue power producers' costs of adding new pollution controls will outweigh those benefits.

Critics worry those low figures essentially remove the mercury standards' legal underpinnings, making the power plant regulations more vulnerable to court challenges. 

“This deeply irresponsible finding seeks to sabotage the rules by inviting court challenges from Wheeler’s former clients and the Trump Administration’s current donors and allies,” said a statement from Earthjustice attorney James Pew, alluding to EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerVirginia exits multi-state coalition backing EPA in climate lawsuit Overnight Energy & Environment — Lummis holds up Biden EPA picks 150 ex-EPA staffers ask Virginia lawmakers to oppose Wheeler nomination MORE’s background as a coal lobbyist. 

“If the sabotage succeeds, people throughout the U.S. could die unnecessarily each year, literally wheezing, gasping for air, and choking to death,” Pew added. 

Mercury has been found to damage lungs and brain and is linked with developmental disorders.

The Trump EPA has argued that the Obama administration had inflated the co-benefits in its past analysis, leaving companies spending more to fight hazardous air pollutants (HAP) than society would benefit from the decrease in pollution.

“After properly evaluating the cost to coal- and oil-fired power plants of complying with the MATS rule (costs that the Obama Administration estimated range from $7.4 to $9.6 billion annually) and the benefits attributable to regulating hazardous air pollutant (HAP) emissions from these power plants (benefits that range from $4 to $6 million annually) — as EPA was directed to do by the U.S. Supreme Court — the agency proposes to determine that it is not 'appropriate and necessary' to regulate HAP emissions from power plants,” the agency previously told The Hill. 

The EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) criticized the revision late last year, saying the EPA had ignored the board’s advice. 

The review by the SAB lists a number of scientific studies that back up the critique of economists, arguing the EPA failed to consider the wide health benefits that would result from better controlling mercury pollution and underestimated the neurological damage that comes from being exposed to it.

The board also questioned the agency’s analysis on how families might be exposed to mercury from freshwater fish, saying the EPA should include all types of fish and consider how bioaccumulation of mercury would impact all ages.

"This action, which is a gift to the coal industry at the expense of all Americans, is an attack on public health justified by a phony cost-benefit analysis that purposely inflates the cost of MATS and ignores the value of the human health benefits,” Ellen Kurlansky, a former air policy analyst with EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said in a statement.

“Based on that deception, EPA says that the benefits of MATS aren't worth the cost. Those benefits include the value of thousands of lives saved by MATS each year, hundreds of thousands of illnesses avoided each year, and avoided damage to the developing brain of the unborn."