The Environmental Protection Agency will continue to regulate mercury spewing out of coal-fired power plants, but it’s proposed to revise the legal finding that supports that regulation in the first place, according to an announcement it released Friday.
Whispers that the EPA began might roll back the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which former President Barack Obama implemented in 2011 to limit the amount of the toxic metal power plants can spew, first surfaced in October. But electrical utilities pushed back, as they had already spent billions working to comply with the rule, reports Bloomberg.
So instead of undoing outright this particular rule, the agency wants to take a closer look at the cost-benefit analysis that supports it under the Clean Air Act. The EPA is hoping to determine that the rule is not “appropriate and necessary,” a legal term that considers on whether the benefits outweigh the cost of a rule.
Development of the MATS included consideration of “co-benefits,” which are additional health benefits that come with the technology that helps keep mercury out of the air. This includes the benefits that arise from less exposure to other pollutants like particulate matter that can lead to lung and heart issues for nearby communities.
If the EPA decides to change its cost-benefit analysis to remove these co-benefits, the rule might seem too costly to be defensible in court or elsewhere. The same goes for other rules under the Clean Air Act that the EPA has deemed “appropriate and necessary” based on these co-benefits. So while the agency didn’t repeal the rule outright, this move certainly doesn’t protect it or others like it that base their necessity on improvements to public health.
“You can thank EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler for sending our kids a huge lump of coal this holiday season,” said League of Conservation Voters Vice President for Government Affairs Sara Chieffo, in a press release. “It is not in their stockings but in the air they breathe and the seafood they eat.”
MATS cut mercury pollution in the air, land, and water by 90 percent, according to the Clean Air Task Force. The reduction in mercury along with its co-benefits was supposed to prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks, and 4,700 heart attacks a year by the EPA’s own findings. This toxin is dangerous to young children whose brains are still developing, particularly the children of low-income families and communities of color that tend to live closest to polluting coal power plants. Mercury can lead to decreased IQs and motor skills.
Is President Donald Trump’s obsession with bringing back the dying coal industry really worth all that?