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EPA seeks to scuttle cleanup of coal power-plant pollution

MICHAEL BIESECKER and SAM HANANEL

Associated Press

WASHINGTON  — The Trump administration is once again seeking to scuttle mandated reductions in pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday asked a federal appeals court in Washington to postpone its consideration of rules adopted in 2012 to require energy companies to reduce their emissions of toxic chemicals.

The agency said in a court filing it wants to review the restrictions, which are already in effect. Nationally, most utilities are already on pace to comply with the new standards.

Tuesday’s legal filing came as the latest attempt by President Donald Trump’s appointees to help companies that profit from the burning of fossil fuels.

Last week, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced he would seek to rewrite Obama Administration rules limiting water pollution from coal-fired power plants. The agency also sought to roll back tighter restrictions on pollution from coal mines.

Trump has pledged to reverse decades of decline in a U.S. coal industry under threat from such cleaner sources of energy as natural gas, wind turbines and solar farms. The president has also said he doesn’t agree with climate scientists who say that carbon emissions from fossil fuels are the primary cause of global warming.

Coal burned to generate electricity is also the nation’s largest source of mercury pollution, which when inhaled or ingested by pregnant women can harm the development of infant brains.

Although Congress passed legislation in 1990 enabling tighter mercury restrictions, the adoption of rules needed to carry out the policy of the law has been stalled for decades by legal wrangling and utility lobbying.

After the EPA put the finishing touches on the new rules four years ago, the agency was sued by a coalition of conservative states and industry groups. Pruitt, who as Oklahoma’s attorney general was tightly aligned with oil and gas companies, was among those who filed suit.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2015 that the EPA had not adequately considered the costs and benefits of the plan. But the justices let the rule stay in effect and returned it to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for further review.

The appeals court left the rule intact while the EPA considered its costs. The agency issued new findings last year, upholding its previous position that the health benefits of reducing mercury in the environment far outweighed the costs of installing new filters on power-plant smoke stacks.

Although the EPA now appears to be reversing course, environmental groups pledged to defend the restrictions in court.

Graham McCahan, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the tighter standards are already saving thousands of lives every year.

“Virtually every power plant in America is already in compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards,” he said. “Weakening them would be a serious threat to the safety of our food, air and water.”

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