By ELLEN KNICKMEYER, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Friday targeted an Obama-era regulation credited with helping reduce toxic mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, saying the benefits to human health and the environment may not be worth the cost of the regulation.
The 2011 Obama administration rule, called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, led to what electric utilities say was an $18 billion clean-up of mercury and other toxic substances from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants.
In the past decade, environmental groups say, federal and state regulations have reduced mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 85 percent.
Mercury causes brain damage, learning disabilities and other birth defects in children. The biggest man-made source of mercury pollution in the U.S. is coal-fired power plants in this country.
A proposal on Friday from the Environmental Protection Agency would leave current emissions standards in place. However, it challenges the reasons cited for the Obama regulation, calculating that the crackdown on mercury and other toxic substances from coal plants produced only a few million dollars a year in measurable health benefits and did not meet the “appropriate and necessary” criteria set out under the country’s Clean Air Act.
The proposal, which now goes up for public comment, is the latest from the Trump administration to argue for relaxing environmental protections by adjustingestimates of the costs and payoffs of regulations.
It’s also the latest step the administration has taken to benefit the U.S. coal industry, which has been struggling amid competition from natural gas and other cheaper, cleaner forms of energy.
The Trump administration in August proposed an overhaul of another regulation that would have prodded electricity providers to get less of their energy from dirtier-burning coal plants.
In a statement, the EPA said on Friday the administration was “providing regulatory certainty” by more accurately estimating the costs and benefits of the Obama administration’s crackdown on mercury and other toxic emissions from smokestacks.