Energy & Environment

Biden administration proposes restoration of power plant rules undermined by Trump

Greg Nash

The Biden administration on Monday proposed restoring the legal underpinnings of power plant pollution regulations following a Trump administration rollback. 

In 2020, the Trump administration undercut a regulation known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule by changing its legal justification in a way that made it more vulnerable to lawsuits.

The MATS rule, in general, puts limits on how much of these toxic substances coal and oil power plants can release into the air. Mercury is a neurotoxin that is particularly harmful to children. 

Neither the 2020 rule nor Monday’s action made any changes to the Obama-era standards themselves.

Instead, the Biden administration on Monday proposed to affirm that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate the emissions of these pollutants from power plants, while the Trump administration had said the regulations were not appropriate and necessary. 

“Sound science makes it clear that we need to limit mercury and toxins in the air to protect children and vulnerable communities from dangerous pollution,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. 

“EPA is committed to aggressively reducing pollution from the power sector so that all people, regardless of zip code or amount of money in their pocket, can breathe clean air and live healthy and productive lives,” he said. 

According to the EPA’s website, the standards are estimated to have prevented between 4,200 and 11,000 premature deaths annually.

At the time of the rollback, critics argued that the Trump administration was working to give polluters who wanted to sue in order to eliminate the rules an advantage in court. And, following the changes, a coal company challenged the MATS rule in court. 

The Trump administration had found that the billions in costs that compliance would impose on power producers annually outweighs the $4 million to $6 million in benefits that the regulation would provide. The Obama administration had found that the benefits would be worth $90 billion.

The vast discrepancy between the potential benefits came down to how they were calculated and specifically the Trump administration’s exclusion of “co-benefits” — or indirect benefits gleaned from the rules’ impact on pollutants that are not strictly “targeted” by the rule. 

Meanwhile, Monday’s proposal also indicated the Biden administration will take a second look at possibly implementing additional regulations. 

It said that it would review the Trump administration’s finding that with the current standards in place, there aren’t remaining risks from the power plants’ emissions of the substances in question. The outcome will be announced in a separate action. 

Updated at 4:31 p.m.

Tags biden administration Mercury Michael Regan Pollution power plants regulations Trump administration

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