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Trump's EPA Announces Another Revision For Coal Plant Regulations

In this July 27, 2018 photo, the Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo. (J. David Ake/AP)
In this July 27, 2018 photo, the Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo. (J. David Ake/AP)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

The EPA wants to roll back regulations of mercury emissions from coal plants. But there are serious health risks if that happens.


Umair Irfan, reporter who covers climate change, energy, and the environment for Vox. Contributor to the public radio program “Science Friday.” ( @umairfan)

Janet McCabe, led the Office of Air and Radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency during the Obama administration and played a lead role in framing, shaping and implementing Clean Air Act standards, including the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Senior law fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Professor at the Indiana University McKinney School of Law. ( @janetgmccabe)

Celia Chen, director of Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program ( @toxtranslation). Professor of biological sciences at Dartmouth College.

From The Reading List

NPR: “ Trump EPA Says Mercury Limits On Coal Plants Too Costly, Not ‘Necessary’” — “In another proposed reversal of an Obama-era standard, the Environmental Protection Agency Friday said limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants is not cost-effective and should not be considered ‘appropriate and necessary.’

“The EPA says it is keeping the 2012 restrictions in place for now, in large part because utilities have already spent billions to comply with them. But environmental groups worry the move is a step toward repealing the limits and could make it harder to impose other regulations in the future.

“In a statement, the EPA said it is ‘providing regulatory certainty by transparently and accurately taking account of both costs and benefits.’

“The National Mining Association welcomed the move, calling the mercury limits ‘punitive’ and ‘massively unbalanced.’ ”

Los Angeles Times: “ EPA announces plan to roll back mercury rules in power plants” — “The Trump administration quietly proposed rolling back emissions standards for coal and oil generated power plants in a move that could alter how and whether the government monitors and controls air and water pollution.

“The proposed ruling strikes at the economic analysis the agency uses to establish regulations, giving less weight to potential health benefits of air pollution restrictions and more to costs incurred by industry.

“The announcement, issued Friday amid the government shutdown, singles out a 2011 Obama administration ruling designed to curtail mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. It suggests the costs to industry of cutting mercury emissions from power plants ‘dwarfs’ any monetary benefits gained by the public.

“That regulation, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, has reduced mercury emissions by roughly 80% since it was established, according to research, including the EPA’s own analyses.”

Vox: “ The EPA wants to make it harder to ratchet down toxic chemicals from power plants” — “The Environmental Protection Agency proposed yet another weakening of an Obama-era regulation on Friday, this time targeting toxic chemicals from oil and coal-fired power plants.

“The regulation in question, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), was established in 2011. It was the first set of federal rules to limit hazardous pollution from coal-burning and oil-burning plants, targeting chemicals like mercury, a neurotoxin that can lead to tremors, respiratory failure, and death. Coal power plants are the biggest emitters of mercury.

“According to the EPA’s own projections, these rules save upward of 17,000 lives per year in the United States. The Center for American Progress found that MATS reduced mercury emissions from power plants by 81 percent since going into effect.

“However, the energy industry and some states filed lawsuits to block MATS. One suit, Michigan v. EPA, fought its way to the Supreme Court. In 2015, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of Michigan, deciding that the EPA has to weigh the costs to industry of an environmental regulation against the benefits to society.

“While the EPA’s latest proposal doesn’t repeal MATS outright, it starts to undermine its legal foundations. The EPA’s reasoning is that the current regulation as it stands is too costly and does not meet the ‘appropriate and necessary’ standard.”

Brian Hardzinski produced this hour for broadcast.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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