The Environmental Protection Agency said Friday that regulations limiting mercury and other emissions from power plants are not providing benefits worth the cost of their implementation, according to NPR. While they are stopping short of dismantling the rules for now, the move could indicate another looming rollback of an Obama-era environmental regulation.
Regulators said the rules would stay in place for now, citing the fact that the industry already spent $18 billion to comply, when the measure was first issued in 2011. The EPA said its statement served to provide “regulatory certainty by transparently and accurately taking account of both costs and benefits.”
The National Mining Association praised the move, calling the regulations “massively unbalanced.” In a statement from Hal Quinn, head of the industry group, he called the Obama administration’s assessment of the cost and benefits of the rule “perhaps the largest regulatory accounting fraud perpetrated on American consumers.”
Coal power plants release mercury, which can cause neurological, heart, immune system, and lung problems, especially for unborn babies and young children. Environmental groups say that state and federal regulations have decreased mercury emissions from power plants by 85 percent.
Under the Clean Air Act, regulations must legally be considered appropriate and necessary. The EPA’s new proposal argues that the rule does not qualify, saying any health benefits from the measure are worth only a few million dollars annually. Changing the estimated costs versus benefits would undercut the legal foundation of the rule, and pave the way to dismantle it.
The EPA will open its proposal to a 60-day public comment period to review whether “we would be obligated to rescind” the rule if it is found to be unnecessary.
In 2015, the EPA was ordered to consider the cost to industry relative to the benefits of the rule. The new proposal estimates the costs at between $7.4 billion to $9.6 billion annually, and the health benefits at just $4 to $6 million each year.
The Obama administration had also factored in “co-benefits,” since reducing mercury emissions also reduces particle emissions. They estimated those benefits to be worth an additional $80 billion, preventing as many as 11,000 premature deaths each year.
According to a statement from the Clean Air Task Force’s legal director, Ann Weeks, “What has changed now is the administration’s attitude towards public health.”
She said the new estimates relied on outdated data, and even the health benefits from mercury reductions alone are in fact worth billions.