Tuesday, 22 January, 2019

Limiting mercury from United States coal plants not 'necessary'

EPA proposes easing regulation of mercury from coal plants Trump’s EPA To Weaken Rule Limiting Coal Plant Mercury Emissions
Andrew Wong | 31 December, 2018, 17:18

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday proposed a major change in the way the federal government calculates the costs and benefits of risky air pollutants, arguing that authorities should exclude some of the public health benefits stemming from new rules.

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.

In announcing the new proposed rule, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement that the costs of cutting mercury from power plants "dwarfs" the monetary benefits.

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.

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-fired power plants are the largest single source of mercury pollution.

Ann Weeks, senior counsel for the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group, criticized the rule as "bean counting", and said, "This is not tax law". The new rule will not factor in the harder-to-quantify benefits linked to preventing those health consequences.

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"EPA has managed to walk a very fine line", said Jeffrey Holmstead, a partner at the firm Bracewell who represents several utilities and who headed the agency's air and radiation office under President George W. Bush.

"Once again, the Trump administration is acting in a way that will adversely affect the health and safety of those living from coast to coast". Mercury harms children and causes severe health damage.

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.

The EPA said it will seek comment on whether "we would be obligated to rescind" the Obama-era rule if the agency adopts Friday's finding that the regulation was not appropriate and necessary.

The public will have 60 days to comment on it before a final rule is issued.

Janet McCabe, a former air-quality official in the Obama administration's EPA, called the proposal part of "the quiet dismantling of the regulatory framework" for the federal government's environmental protections.

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