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 took 21 years before the EPA finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for coal-fired power plants. 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, 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.
According to the Times reporting, the new proposed rule would change the way the EPA determines the benefits of limiting different types of emissions, potentially making it more hard in the future for the agency to create new regulations. Coal-fired power plants are the largest single source of mercury pollution.
Environmental advocacy groups criticized the move, while the National Mining Association praised it. Mercury emitted into the air can end up in soil and water, where it has "toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes", in addition to causing developmental defects in children and babies, according to the World Health Organization.
President Barack Obama in contrast cited $80 billion in health benefits annually, including preventing 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks.
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But the new EPA finding would conclude it's not "appropriate" for the agency to regulate the toxic emissions. "With this proposal, EPA has chose to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and all Americans will suffer as a result", said Carper.
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 Trump administration Friday announced a plan created to make it easier for coal-fired power plants, after almost a decade of restrictions, to once again release mercury and other pollutants linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses into the atmosphere.
In an announcement Friday, the EPA proposes what would be another Trump administration rollback of federal enforcement under the Clean Air Act.
"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.