Trump administration scraps mercury emissions rule as rollback of Obama-era regulations continues

Regulation covers coal industry, for which agency's chief previously lobbied

Andrew Naughtie
Friday 17 April 2020 16:29 BST
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The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has gutted an Obama administration regulation requiring coal plants to cut their emissions of mercury and other pollutants that carry significant risks to human health.

The EPA, currently headed up by former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, argues the mercury cleanup requirement was not “appropriate and necessary” – a legal benchmark under the country’s landmark Clean Air Act.

Characterising the regulation as government overreach, Mr Wheeler said the latest move better balanced the cost to utilities against public safety.

Electric utilities say that the Obama-era rule led to an $18bn (£14bn) cleanup of mercury and other toxins from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants, while EPA staffers’ own analysis said the rule curbed mercury’s devastating neurological damage to children, as well as preventing thousands of premature deaths annually.

Contra the rhetoric of Donald Trump's administration about the impact of regulations imposed under Mr Obama, most coal-fired power plants have already made the technological upgrades required by the 2011 mercury rule. Many utilities have also urged against Thursday’s rollbacks, albeit largely out of fear of expensive legal battles.

This is far from the first major coal pollution regulation that the Trump-era EPA has dismantled. On the water front, the agency last year announced plans to roll back rules governing the release of toxic ash from coal-fired power plants,

While the changing global energy market has meant coal production has continued to decline on his watch, Mr Trump made saving the industry a theme of his 2016 campaign, appealing directly to voters in economically depressed Appalachia and elsewhere who feared that their jobs were set to disappear.

He was helped in his pitch to “save coal” by a selectively edited clip in which Hillary Clinton told an audience “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business”. As the full video showed, she was actually describing the need to provide help for them given the industry’s inevitable decline.

Beyond coal, the Trump-era EPA has also rolled back measures meant to curb vehicle emissions, as well as removing federal anti-pollution protection from millions of miles of streams and wetlands. Some of its proposed deregulatory moves have been so extreme that even major oil and gas companies have opposed them.

And where the agency has moved to tighten regulation on specific pollutants, its efforts have often been criticised as weak.

With Associated Press

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