The Trump administration’s latest reversal of Obama-era environmental regulations is a partial rollback of the rule on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. In 2011, under President Obama, the EPA required power plants to reduce the amount of mercury and other pollutants coming out of their smokestacks by 90 percent over five years. By 2016, the industry was fully compliant, and mercury emissions were significantly reduced. The Trump administration, however, says the cost of enforcing the regulation on mercury emissions far outweighs any health benefits.
Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can cause birth defects, learning disabilities, brain damage, and death. It can accumulate over time, contaminating such things as the fish we eat. Some of the other pollutants emitted with mercury, including soot and nitrogen oxide, can cause heart and lung disease.
The Obama administration calculated that the installation of pollution controls would cost the industry approximately $9.6 billion a year, and would amount to about $6 million a year in health benefits associated with reduced mercury emissions. Factoring in the reduction of the pollutants that accompany mercury emissions, however, they calculated that the public health benefits would be between $37 billion to $90 billion a year.
Trump’s EPA, however, disputes those calculations, calling them “fuzzy math.”
Acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler calls the health benefits associated with reducing the other pollutants “co-benefits.” “…They are incidental, and they’re not directly tied to mercury. And so we should exclude those altogether” from the calculations.
This, then, changes the math, and reduces the apparent health benefit of the mercury emission regulation. As a result, Trump’s EPA says utilities will no longer have to comply with it in the future.
The industry itself, however, has expressed the desire to keep the mercury emission policy in place. They have already spent the money on the equipment to reduce emissions, and “would consider it a competitive disadvantage if suddenly things were reversed and they take those scrubbers off,” according to Juliet Eilperin of PBS NewsHour.
It appears that even though the Trump administration continues to chip away at Obama-era environmental regulations, coal-fired power plants will continue to comply with the mercury emissions regulation, even if it is overturned.
How Trump’s EPA is changing the public health benefits around mercury |
PBS NewsHour [2018-12-28]
Trump Administration Wants To Roll Back Mercury Emissions Limit |
Wochit Politics [2018-12-28]