EPA Finalizes Rollback to Mercury Emissions Rule

Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized regulatory rollbacks to power plant mercury emissions rules. While the standards stay in place, the highly controversial rule changes are likely to have sincere impacts and result in legal challenges.

The change nullifies the required finding that policies are “appropriate and necessary.” The rule change alters the way costs and benefits are calculated when reviewing hazardous air pollutant abatement policies. If calculations of public health benefits from required reductions of pollution levels are under-calculated or compliance costs over-calculated, it could open up the standards to legal challenges. In 2012 the Obama Administration calculated net benefits of pollution reduction schemes by incorporating “co-benefits.” These come from a reduction in other pollutants as a result of required abatement and lead to even greater public health benefits.

EPA stated that it believes the question over co-benefits was answered by proceedings before the Supreme Court in 2016. The court ruled that EPA did not properly include compliance costs into their calculations, thus skewing the results to seem more beneficial.

From the EPA press release:

“EPA is following through on the Supreme Court’s direction and correcting the previous Administration’s flawed cost finding in its original rule. Today’s action maintains the mercury emissions standard, and meets the statutory obligation to review the adequacy of those standards.

Environmental advocates lambasted the move as a giveaway to the coal industry.

From coverage by WBUR:

“That rule was about protecting our kids, protecting pregnant women from dangers associated with mercury and lead and other toxic pollution. It’s literally been working for now for years,” says Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA under President Barack Obama and now president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy non-profit. She says that the Trump administration made the changes “solely for the purpose of making sure that it’s harder in the future to regulate effectively to protect public health and safety.”

See previous Conduit Street coverage of recent EPA rollbacks:

EPA Proposing to Keep Same Air Quality Standards

Federal Agencies Finalize Clean Car Regulation Rollbacks

EPA Relaxing Enforcement of Environmental Regulations