The Slatest

EPA Proposes Nixing Obama-Era Rule on Mercury From Coal Plants

The coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant is seen on March 28, 2016 outside Delta, Utah.
The coal-fired Intermountain Power Plant is seen on March 28, 2016 outside Delta, Utah. George Frey/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t think it’s really worth it to control the emissions of mercury from coal-fired power plants. So may as well get rid of the regulation. In the latest effort to undo an Obama-era regulation, the EPA says the benefits to health and environment are really not worth the cost of the regulation itself. Nothing is changing as of yet in the regulation known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards but the move could make it easier to do so by removing a key legal justification for the measure. As the EPA sees it, the Obama regulation only produced a couple of million dollars a year in health benefits and was not “appropriate and necessary,” which is an important legal benchmark in the Clean Air Act.

Beyond that one regulation itself though, there could be a significant long-term impact as well. “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,” notes the New York Times. Delaware Sen. Tom Carper from said that EPA’s move amounted to a “dangerous precedent” because it “will no longer factor in all the clear health, environmental and economics benefits of clean air policies, such as reducing cancer and birth defects.”

Environmentalists have obviously objected to the language. But opposition also came from some in the industry. A coalition of electric utilities, for example, criticized efforts to nix requirements on mercury by saying they had already invested in the technology to slash emissions. And some insist these efforts have been successful. A study published this month by Harvard University’s School of Public Health found that coal-fired plants are the main source of mercury and these standards “have markedly reduced mercury in the environment and improved public health,” details Reuters.

Some however have been pushing the EPA to act and correct what Hal Quinn, head of the National Mining Association, characterized as “perhaps the largest regulatory accounting fraud perpetrated on American consumers.” As Quinn sees it, there’s no way the health benefits to Americans outweigh the cost of the necessary upgrades in equipment. According to the EPA, the cost of complying with the regulation was between $7.4 billion and $9.6 billion per year, while the clear benefits added up to somewhere between $4 million to $6 million.