EPA says ‘not necessary’ for coal plants to comply with mercury limits


The Environmental Protection Agency, in a proposed reversal of yet another Obama-era rule, said rules preventing coal-fired power plants from releasing mercury should not be considered "appropriate and necessary".

'The policy (Acting EPA Administrator) Andrew Wheeler and (President) Donald Trump proposed today means more pregnant women, young children, and the elderly will be exposed to deadly neurotoxins and poisons, just so wealthy coal and oil barons can make a few extra bucks, ' Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director Mary Anne Hitt said in a statement.

In a statement, the EPA said Friday the administration was "providing regulatory certainty" by more accurately estimating the costs and benefits of the Obama administration crackdown on mercury and other toxic emissions from smokestacks. Mercury harms the developing nervous systems of children and causes other severe health damage.

The EPA is not seeking to remove the mercury limitations, outlined under the 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, but critics are saying the proposed change in calculations sets a risky precedent for future regulations associated with public health.

The proposal will be up for 60 days of public comment before a final ruling goes into effect.

By contrast, the Obama administration had calculated an additional $80 billion in health benefits because particulate matter and other toxic pollutants are also reduced when utilities limit mercury.

Mercury exposure is linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses.

Environmental advocacy groups criticized the move, while the National Mining Association praised it.

Under former President Barack Obama, the USA enacted Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) in 2011 which forced coal-fired power plants to cut mercury output.

Representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. have proposed going back on a previous endorsement of limits on mercury pollution. The long-term impact would be significant: It would weaken the ability of the EPA to impose new regulations in the future by adjusting the way the agency measures the benefits of curbing pollutants, giving less weight to the potential health gains.

Overall, environmental groups say, federal and state efforts have cut mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 85 percent in roughly the last decade.

The Obama administration also broadly accepted that it's hard to put a specific dollar-figure on some health benefits - for instance, avoiding lost IQ points in infants (or other fetal harm), which has been linked to pregnant women eating mercury-contaminated fish. "It's a very different calculus".