U.S. limits on coal plant mercury emissions too costly: Trump's EPA

EPA proposes easing regulation of mercury from coal plants

EPA proposes easing regulation of mercury from coal plants

President Donald Trump's administration announced Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency is relaxing Obama-era rules preventing coal-fired power plants from releasing mercury and other unsafe pollutants into the air. He's a former EPA air administrator now with Bracewell LLP, which represents energy industry clients.

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to change the way the government calculates benefits of restricting mercury emissions from coal plants.

The EPA proposal Friday would be another administration rollback of federal enforcement under the Clean Air Act. Since the Mercury and Air Toxics Rule was issued in 2012, both electric prices and mercury pollution have gone down.

The EPA said the proposal is meant to "correct flaws". Mercury can cause brain damage, learning disabilities and birth defects in children, as well as problems for women during pregnancy.

Once the proposal appears in the federal register sometime in the coming weeks, the New York Times reports, the public will have 60 days to comment before any final changes are made.

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It said cost of the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards Act ranged from $7.4 to $9.6 billion a year with benefits from regulating hazardous air pollutant emissions ranging from $4 to $6 million a year.

By contrast, the Obama administration had calculated an additional $80 billion in health benefits because particulate matter and other toxic pollutants are also reduced when utilities limit mercury.

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. 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.

However, the administration estimated that these benefits swell to somewhere between $37 billion and $90 billion when you incorporate the effects of reductions in other particles-like soot and nitrogen oxide-that would coincide with mercury limitations, making the regulations monetarily beneficial. Coal power plants in this country are the largest single manmade source of mercury pollutants, which enters the food chain through fish and other items that people consume.

"It's not unreasonable to expect that if the standards go away there will be some number of utilities that will choose to no longer operate pollution controls that they've installed", says Janet McCabe, former acting assistant administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA during the Obama administration.

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