Trump EPA Says Mercury Limits On Coal Plants Are Not 'Necessary'

Trump EPA Says Mercury Limits On Coal Plants Are Not 'Necessary'

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday proposed a major change in the way the federal government calculates the costs and benefits of unsafe air pollutants, arguing that authorities should exclude some of the public health benefits stemming from new rules. In its new proposal, the EPA estimates that cost at $7.4 billion to $9.6 billion annually and the benefits at just $4 million to $6 million a year.

The EPA proposal Friday would be another administration rollback of federal enforcement under the Clean Air Act. Environmental groups say the regulation has contributed to an 85 per cent reduction in mercury emissions in the past decade.

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.

But the coal industry has blamed the MATS rules for killing the power plants it sells to. The long-term impact would be significant: It would weaken the ability of the EPA to impose new regulations in the future by adjusting the way the agency measures the benefits of curbing pollutants, giving less weight to the potential health gains.

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The 2011 Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, enacted under Barack Obama, the former president, led to an estimated $18 billion clean-up of mercury and other toxins from the smokestacks of coal-fired power stations.

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.

USA coal-fired power generation has fallen more than 40 percent since a peak in 2007, while natural gas-fired generation soared by about the same amount, according to the Energy Information Administration. 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.

Friday's move is the latest by the Trump administration that changes estimates of the costs and payoffs of regulations as part of an overhaul of Obama-era environmental protections.

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Groups were quick to criticize the move, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center, as well as Democratic Rep.

Trump administration officials say the Obama EPA inflated benefits and underestimated costs.

Senator Tom Carper, the ranking Democrat on the US Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, spoke out against the move.

EPA said it will take comment for the proposal for 60 days and will hold at least one public hearing.

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