EPA takes aim at Obama-era regulation of mercury at coal plants

Pablo Tucker
December 31, 2018

The EPA is not seeking to remove the mercury limitations, outlined under the 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, but critics are saying the proposed change in calculations sets a unsafe precedent for future regulations associated with public health.

However, it challenges the basis for the Obama regulation, calculating that the crackdown on mercury and other toxins from coal plants produced only a few million dollars a year in measurable health benefits and was not "appropriate and necessary" - a legal benchmark under the country's landmark Clean Air Act.

The EPA said it would take comments on its proposal for the next 60 days and hold at least one public hearing before making a final ruling.

"I just think it's a little fuzzy math when you say, 'Reduce mercury and we have all these other benefits over here, ' as the shiny object", Wheeler told the Post last fall. "The misguided proposed changes leave MATS legally vulnerable and foolishly make it harder to strengthen mercury pollution reduction standards in the future to better protect children's and women's health, and Great Lakes fisheries".

"The Trump Administration is providing regulatory certainty by transparently and accurately taking account of both costs and benefits", the EPA said in a news release Friday.

Under former President Barack Obama, the United States enacted Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) in 2011 which forced coal-fired power plants to cut mercury output.

It's the latest administration effort on behalf of the country's coal industry.

Representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the USA have proposed going back on a previous endorsement of limits on mercury pollution. But it further justified the regulation by citing an additional $80 billion in health benefits a year by, among other things, preventing the 11,000 premature deaths. For that reason, the original rule argued against using a strict cost-benefit analysis to decide whether the regulation should be imposed, said Joseph Goffman, executive director of Harvard Law School's Environmental and Energy Law Program.

The National Mining Association praised the move, saying the mercury regulations are "punitive" and "massively unbalanced". The rule places limits on the amount of mercury that a power plant can emit. This is public health benefits.

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