EPA proposes making it harder to limit mercury emissions

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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.

With this action, EPA is also setting a risky precedent that a federal agency - charged with protecting the environment and public health - will no longer factor in all the clear health, environmental and economics benefits of clean air policies, such as reducing cancer and birth defects. 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.

A proposal by acting EPA Administrator, Andrew R. Wheeler, signed yesterday and submitted by the the EPA would lay the ground work for repealing Mercury and Air Toxics Standards first enacted in 2011 according to the New York Times.

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. In a draft of its proposed rule (PDF), Trump's EPA said that the Obama-era EPA had erred by quantifying the co-benefits of reducing other, non-mercury pollutants in its analysis. On Friday, Holmstead said the agency "managed to walk a very fine line" by revising a justification for the rule while leaving pollution protections in place. It said the standards have markedly reduced mercury in the environment and improved public health.

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Janet McCabe, a former air-quality official in the Obama administration's EPA, called the proposal part of "the quiet dismantling of the regulatory framework" for the federal government's environmental protections. The standards help meet the country's commitments under the Minamata Convention on Mercury. Even as coal use rises in China and India, the domestic industry has struggled to compete with cheaper electricity produced from natural gas and renewable energy.

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.

US coal-fired power generation has fallen more than 40 percent since a peak in 2007, while natural gas-fired generation soared by about the same amount, according to the Energy Information Administration. 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.