EPA targets Obama crackdown on mercury from coal plants

Uncovered coal trains

Enlarge An eastbound Norfolk Southern Corp. unit coal train passes through Waddy

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing changes to narrow the way it calculates the health benefits of pollutant limitations, targeting an Obama-era regulation on the mercury expelled by coal power plants.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule has been in place for years, and energy companies that own coal-fired power plants are already in compliance.

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".

Coal power plants are the single biggest source of mercury pollution in America, accounting for almost half of mercury pollution in 2015, according to a recent study published by Harvard University's School of Public Health.

The EPA said the proposal is meant to "correct flaws".

A proposal Friday from the Environmental Protection Agency challenges the basis for the Obama regulation. Mercury harms children and causes severe health damage.

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Consequently, the Trump Administration's EPA is leaving the current MATS rule in place while undercutting the justification for the rule in such a way that could preclude more stringent mercury standards in the future, and could possibly set the stage for looser rules in the future. It's the latest administration effort on behalf of the country's coal industry.

Research shows that when coal is burned, it releases mercury into the air, posing a health risk, particularly for babies developing in the womb and young children.

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.

Sen. Tom Carper of DE, the top Democrat on the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, condemned the Trump administration's move.

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.

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