EPA says ‘not necessary’ for coal plants to comply with mercury limits

EPA says ‘not necessary’ for coal plants to comply with mercury limits

EPA says ‘not necessary’ for coal plants to comply with mercury limits

The Trump administration on Friday said limits on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants were unnecessary as they were too costly, sparking an outcry from environmentalists who feared the next step would be looser rules favoring the coal industry at the expense of public health.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule has been in place for years, and energy companies that own coal-fired power plants are already in compliance.

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, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that the clean-up produced only a few million dollars a year in measurable health benefits and was not "appropriate and necessary".

The mercury regulation also costs the coal industry $9.6 billion annually, making it among the most expensive regulations the EPA has ever had to enforce. 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.


The National Mining Association praised the move, saying the mercury regulations are "punitive" and "massively unbalanced". In a statement, she said the warming climate, for example, might affect mercury's impact on the environment but the EPA's proposal could make it harder to address that.

The EPA proposal is open to public comment for 60 days after it is posted in the Federal Register. Mercury can cause brain damage, learning disabilities and birth defects in children, as well as problems for women during pregnancy.

A study published this month by Harvard University's School of Public Health said coal-fired power plants are the top source of mercury in the United States, accounting for almost half of mercury emissions in 2015. 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. It's the latest administration effort on behalf of the country's coal industry.

"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.

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 risky precedent for future regulations associated with public health.

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