In another potential rollback of an Obama-era environmental regulation, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency is rethinking rules that restrict emissions of mercury, as well as other pollutants, according to ABC News. The EPA says they are sending a revised version of the regulations, the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, to the White House for review. Molly Block, EPA spokesperson, said they are reexamining whether it is “appropriate and necessary” to limit emissions of substances like mercury and arsenic, and to reassess the current limits under the rule.
Mercury has been linked to brain and nervous system damage, potentially affecting fetal development, according to The New York Times.
And the World Health Organization says: “Mercury may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.”
The primary source of mercury pollution is from power plants, according to EPA data. The current rule requires oil and coal power plants to reduce mercury emissions, as well as emissions of arsenic, acid gas, cyanide, nickel, and selenium, which have been linked to their own set of health risks, such as cancer.
Under Obama, EPA officials said the rules would save thousands of lives and earn health and economic benefits well beyond their estimated $9.6 billion annual cost. Most coal plant owners have already invested in the necessary technology to comply with the rule, leading some analysts to suggest there would be little benefit to changing the rule now.
According to Natural Resources Defense Council Clean Air Act expert John Walke:
“This is reckless chaos for the sake of chaos. The power sector is fully complying and has appealed to EPA publicly, with labor organizations, to leave the standards alone.”
Ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Democratic Senator Tom Carper, wrote to the EPA in defense of the rule last week. He argues that the rule has already reduced airborne pollutants, and that a rollback would hurt developing children particularly hard. In a statement, Carper said:
“As I made very clear to EPA just last week, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) Rule is currently surpassing expectations, and changing it now not only doesn’t make sense, but is irresponsible. I warned this administration not to touch this rule that has the support of environmental groups, health organizations, states, industry and a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers.”
A replacement rule could be released for public comment in 60 to 90 days.