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Trump’s EPA Weakens Justification for Life-Saving Mercury Pollution Rule

Trump’s EPA Weakens Justification for Life-Saving Mercury Pollution Rule
As many Americans fight for their lives in the midst of a respiratory pandemic, the Trump administration Thursday axed the justification for a mercury pollution rule that saves more than 10,000 lives and prevents as many as 130,000 asthma attacks each year.

“This is an absolute abomination,” former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) head under Obama and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) president Gina McCarthy said in a statement. “This final rule will increase the risk of more kids with asthma and brain damage, and more people with cancer. Undermining these vital safeguards now also directly threatens the people hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, making it even harder to breathe and putting people with respiratory illnesses at even higher risk.”

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), first passed in 2011 when McCarthy headed the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, were the first of their kind to limit toxic emissions like mercury and lead from coal-fired power plants. These metals are particularly harmful to pregnant women and the brains of children.

The Obama administration argued that, while the standards would cost the industry as much as $9.6 billion a year, the country as a whole would save between $37 billion and $90 billion in public health costs. However, these calculations considered co-benefits of the mercury rule such as a decline in soot and smog-causing pollution.

In the rule released Thursday, the EPA said it was not appropriate to consider these side benefits.

“We have put in place an honest accounting mechanism,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told reporters Thursday, as The Washington Post reported.

According to the EPA’s new accounting mechanism, the rule would cost industry $7.4 to $9.6 billion a year and only generate annual savings of $4 to $6 million in mercury-specific health costs, Reuters pointed out.

“One would not say it is even rational, never mind appropriate, to impose billions in economic cost in return for a few dollars in health benefits,” Wheeler said, according to The Washington Post.

However, complying with the rule cost utilities less than Obama estimated, at a final price tag of around $3 billion a year from 2012 to 2018. And many oppose weakening the rule now that they have already paid to comply with it.

“The repeal of the underlying legal basis for MATS introduces new uncertainty and risk for companies that still are recovering the costs for installing those control technologies,” utility trade group Edison Electric Institute said in a statement reported by Reuters.

“While the coal-fueled plants that were forced out of operation by this illegal rule can’t be resurrected, it’s an important lesson for the future,” the National Mining Association said in a statement reported by Reuters.

The future is also what concerns experts who oppose the rule change out of worry it could be used to justify cutting controls on a variety of fossil fuel pollutants.

“That is the big unstated goal,” said David Konisky, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University, to The New York Times. “This is less about mercury than about potentially constraining or handcuffing future efforts by the E.P.A. to regulate air pollution.”

A view of the smokestack of the 47-year old Cheswick coal-fired power plant on Oct. 26, 2017 in Springdale, Pennsylvania. Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

 

Source:  EcoWatch

By:  Olivia Rosane Apr. 17, 2020 07:53AM EST

LINK:  https://www.ecowatch.com/trump-epa-mercury-pollution-rule-2645741580.html?rebelltitem=1#rebelltitem

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