Published: Mon, December 31, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Carper to EPA: Dismantling mercury emissions rule puts Americans' health at risk

Carper to EPA: Dismantling mercury emissions rule puts Americans' health at risk

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 federal government is required to take into account both the costs and health benefits when considering pollution regulations.

Under the direction of acting administrator Andrew Wheeler, the EPA is now questioning whether it was appropriate to include these additional benefits.

In July, electric utilities and utility groups favoring the rule asked the administration to keep it in place.

The proposal, which now goes up for public comment before any final administration approval, would leave the current mercury regulation in place. Mercury can cause brain damage, learning disabilities and birth defects in children, as well as problems for women during pregnancy.

Mercury exposure is linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses.

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"Reworking the mercury rule, which the E.P.A. considers the priciest clean air regulation ever put forth in terms of annual cost to industry, would represent a victory for the coal industry, and in particular for Robert E. Murray, an important former client of Mr. Wheeler's from his days as a lobbyist".

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.

The Trump administration in August proposed an overhaul for another Obama-era regulation that would have prodded electricity providers to get less of their energy from dirtier-burning coal plants. In a statement announcing the proposed revision-which would eliminate the consideration of these "co-benefits"-the EPA said the cost of complying with the regulation "dwarfs" the monetized benefits in health".

Senator Tom Carper, the ranking Democrat on the US Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, spoke out against the move.

Coming one week into a government shutdown, and in the lull between Christmas and New Year, "this low-key announcement shouldn't fool anyone - it is a big deal, with significant implications", McCabe said.

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