Energy & Environment

20 states sue EPA over weakened justification for power plant regulation


A coalition of 20 states, several cities and a county are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over a regulation that undermines the justification for certain clean air standards. 

The states sued over changes to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, which regulates pollution from power plants. 

In a statement, they particularly took aim at the EPA’s determination that it is not “appropriate and necessary” to regulate the emissions of mercury and other pollutants from power plants. 

“It’s absurd that in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, President Trump is putting the interests of the coal lobby and polluters ahead of the health of the American public,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in the statement on Monday. 

“This rule is an assault on critical regulations that protect our most vulnerable residents — who are already dying from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates — from toxic substances and harmful air pollutants,” Healey said. “We are suing to defend these important standards that help protect our environment and public health.”

The EPA has concluded that it is not appropriate and necessary to regulate these emissions, which does not undo the MATS rule, but rather weakens the legal justification for it.  

Critics say that changes made by the Trump administration will make the rule more vulnerable to legal challenges from those who want to get rid of the rule entirely. 

The “appropriate and necessary” determination follows changes the agency made to the MATS rule’s cost-benefit analysis that prevents it from weighing certain “co-benefits” in its justification for the standards. 

Because of the changed analysis, which bars the EPA from considering the emissions of a class of substances known as hazardous air pollutants, the Trump administration’s cost-benefit analysis for the MATS rule looks vastly different from the Obama administration’s analysis. 

The Obama administration determined that the rule would save consumers as much as $90 billion, but the Trump administration said the rule would only save between $4 million and $6 million.

The Trump administration also found power producers will spend up to nearly $10 billion on adding pollution controls, so the costs will outweigh the benefits.

At least one coal company has already sued following the altered cost-benefit analysis. 

An EPA spokesperson declined to comment on the new lawsuit on Monday, but at the time the changes were announced, Administrator Andrew Wheeler argued that the Trump administration’s analysis was better because it only considered “targeted” pollutants like mercury rather than the co-benefits from reductions of additional pollutants. 

“Under the Obama-era approach, the cost-benefit scales are set so any regulation could be justified regardless of costs,” he said earlier this year. 

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

The EPA is facing at least one other lawsuit challenging its changes to the MATS rule’s justification. 

Tags Andrew Wheeler Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency EPA MATS Mercury Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

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