EPA targets Obama crackdown on mercury from coal plants

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant spews in Glenrock Wyo. The EPA is revisiting a 2011 rule limiting mercury emissions from coal plants

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant spews in Glenrock Wyo. The EPA is revisiting a 2011 rule limiting mercury emissions from coal plants

The Environmental Protection Agency is considering backing off of its regulation of toxic mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Andrew Wheeler, the acting EPA administration signed the proposal. In a draft of its proposed rule (PDF), Trump's EPA said that the Obama-era EPA had erred by quantifying the co-benefits of reducing other, non-mercury pollutants in its analysis.

In a statement, the EPA said Friday the administration was "providing regulatory certainty" by more accurately estimating the costs and benefits of the Obama administration crackdown on mercury and other toxic emissions from smokestacks.

When coal is burned it releases mercury into the air, where it can cause health risks to people including neurological disorders, heart and lung problems and compromised immune systems.

The vast majority of utility companies, which estimate they have already spent about $18 billion installing clean-air technology since the rule was imposed, have said the proposed changes are now of little benefit to them and have urged the Trump administration to leave the measure in place.

The EPA proposal is open to public comment for 60 days after it is posted in the Federal Register. 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.

A proposal Friday from the Environmental Protection Agency challenges the basis for the Obama regulation. It said the standards have markedly reduced mercury in the environment and improved public health. In a letter to the EPA last summer, utilities and regulatory and labor groups said mercury emissions had been reduced by almost 90 percent over the past decade.

But the new EPA finding would conclude it's not "appropriate" for the agency to regulate the toxic emissions.

Howard Learner, the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, added he felt the decision would threaten famous American waters.

The Obama administration also broadly accepted that it's hard to put a specific dollar-figure on some health benefits - for instance, avoiding lost IQ points in infants (or other fetal harm), which has been linked to pregnant women eating mercury-contaminated fish.

Hal Quinn, head of the National Mining Association, charged in a statement Friday that the Obama administration had carried out "perhaps the largest regulatory accounting fraud perpetrated on American consumers" when it calculated that the broad health benefits to Americans would outweigh the cost of equipment upgrades by power providers. "It's a very different calculus".

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