The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday proposed a major change in the way the federal government calculates the costs and benefits of risky air pollutants, arguing that authorities should exclude some of the public health benefits stemming from new rules.
The 2011 Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, enacted under Barack Obama, the former president, led to an estimated $18 billion clean-up of mercury and other toxins from the smokestacks of coal-fired power stations.
While many power companies "actually lobbied the administration to leave" the rule in place, Holmstead said, "the Trump folks couldn't bring themselves to defend" the previous administration's conclusion that the rule was "appropriate and necessary". "Since then, scientists have said, mercury pollution from power plants has declined more than 80 percent nationwide".
Groups were quick to criticize the move, including the Environmental Law and Policy Center, as well as Democratic Rep. 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". Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage the brain and nervous system in young children, leading to lower IQ and impaired motor skills.
Once the proposal appears in the federal register sometime in the coming weeks, the New York Times reports, the public will have 60 days to comment before any final changes are made. "With this proposal, EPA has chose to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and all Americans will suffer as a result", said Carper.
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In an announcement Friday, the EPA proposes what would be another Trump administration rollback of federal enforcement under the Clean Air Act.
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.
Sen. Tom Carper of DE, the top Democrat on the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, condemned the Trump administration's move.
He and other opponents of the move said the Trump administration was playing with numbers, ignoring what Carper said were clear health, environmental and economic benefits to come up with a bottom line that suited the administration's deregulatory aims.
"It's not unreasonable to expect that if the standards go away there will be some number of utilities that will choose to no longer operate pollution controls that they've installed", says Janet McCabe, former acting assistant administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation at EPA during the Obama administration.