Published: Tue, January 01, 2019
Sci-tech | By Lila Blake

Trump Proposal Would Allow Power Plants To Pollute More

Trump Proposal Would Allow Power Plants To Pollute More

The new rule will not factor in the harder-to-quantify benefits linked to preventing those health consequences.

The proposal, which revisits a 2011 rule limiting mercury emissions from coal plants, argues that the EPA lacked justification to curb the neurotoxin in the first place because many benefits stemmed from the overall drop in air pollution that would occur once power companies adopted new technologies.

"What has changed now is the administration's attitude towards public health", said Clean Air Task Force Legal Director Ann Weeks in a statement.

"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.

The EPA on Friday proposed a new rule that challenges the basis for the Obama regulation.

Under the direction of acting administrator Andrew Wheeler, the EPA is now questioning whether it was appropriate to include these additional benefits.

"Although an analysis of all benefits and costs in accordance with generally recognized benefit-cost analysis practices is appropriate for informing the public about the potential effects of any regulatory action. this does not mean that equal consideration of all benefits and costs, including co-benefits, is appropriate for the specific statutory appropriate and necessary finding called for under CAA section 112 (n)(1)(A)."

Hal Quinn, head of the National Mining Association, charged in a statement Friday that the Obama administration had carried out "perhaps the largest regulatory accounting fraud perpetrated on American consumers" when it calculated that the broad health benefits to Americans would outweigh the cost of equipment upgrades by power providers. 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. The standards help meet the country's commitments under the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Today, coal plant closures continue not because of the MATS rule but because coal can't compete with cheaper and relatively cleaner natural gas. It's the latest administration effort on behalf of the country's coal industry. The federal Energy Information Administration says US coal consumption in 2018 is expected to be at its lowest level in almost four decades. The EPA has also moved to relax Obama-era regulations on carbon emissions and roll back existing regulations that govern coal ash.

The proposal, which now goes up for public comment before any final administration approval, would leave the current mercury regulation in place.

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