Trump administration tears up Obama's rules slashing mercury emissions

Trump administration tears up Obama's rules slashing mercury emissions

Trump administration tears up Obama's rules slashing mercury emissions

As his second year comes to a close, agencies have set the regulatory wheels in motion to weaken or repeal almost a dozen Obama-era restrictions on air and water pollution or planet-warming emissions of carbon dioxide, including a plan to reduce the number of waterways that are protected from pollutants and another making it easier for utilities to build new coal plants.

Coal power plants are the single biggest source of mercury pollution in America, accounting for almost half of mercury pollution in 2015, according to a recent study published by Harvard University's School of Public Health. "A proper consideration of costs under section 112 (n) of the Clean Air Act demonstrates that the total projected costs of compliance with the MATS [Mercury and Air toxic Standards] rule ($7.4 to $9.6 billion annually) dwarfs the monetized HAP benefits of the rule ($4 to $6 million annually)".

The EPA on Friday proposed a new rule that challenges the basis for the Obama regulation. It said those "co-benefits" included preventing up to 11,000 premature deaths each year. Weeks called the EPA's estimates outdated and said more recent research finds billions of dollars in public health benefits from reducing mercury emissions alone. Environmental groups say the regulation has contributed to an 85 per cent reduction in mercury emissions in the past decade. The shift could have implications for public health protections across the federal government, experts said. The federal Energy Information Administration says USA coal consumption in 2018 is expected to be at its lowest level in almost four decades.

"Reworking the mercury rule, which the E.P.A. considers the priciest clean air regulation ever put forth in terms of annual cost to industry, would represent a victory for the coal industry, and in particular for Robert E. Murray, an important former client of Mr. Wheeler's from his days as a lobbyist". Even as coal use rises in China and India, the domestic industry has struggled to compete with cheaper electricity produced from natural gas and renewable energy.

Environmental advocacy groups criticized the move, while the National Mining Association praised it.

Consequently, the Trump Administration's EPA is leaving the current MATS rule in place while undercutting the justification for the rule in such a way that could preclude more stringent mercury standards in the future, and could possibly set the stage for looser rules in the future.

The proposal, which now goes up for public comment, is the latest Trump administration move that changes estimates of the costs and payoffs of regulations in arguing for relaxing Obama-era environmental protections.

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