EPA Reviews Mercury Regulations
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would be reconsidering the 2011 rule that places restrictions on mercury emissions by coal burning power plants. The EPA plans to reconsider whether the cost of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) is worth the cost (an estimated $9.6 billion).
MATS is one of the most expensive clean air policies established by the EPA, however, it is also one of the most effective. Utilities place the cost of installing clean air technology around $18 billion, but a benchmarking report indicates that mercury emissions from power plants have decreased 86% since 2000, and that mercury pollution has fallen by nearly 70 percent.
According to the EPA’s website, MATS “set technology-based emissions limitation standards for mercury and other toxic air pollutants, reflecting levels achieved by the best-performing sources currently in operation.” It was developed after several years of study which culminated in the EPA’s 2000 announcement that it was “appropriate and necessary” to control mercury emissions from power plants. The mercury standards are up for review in 2020.
Mercury is a neurotoxin that, once emitted from power plants, can end up in the water and soil. It then concentrates up the food chain, resulting in damage to the brain and lungs, posing an especially large threat to pregnant women and young children. Modifying this rule has serious consequences for human health, but some fear that it is only the beginning of the Trump administration’s attempts to deregulate environmental rules in favor of industry.
Joseph Goffman, executive director of Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program, stated “I think there is a war that current management at EPA is waging against benefits, and we have seen that war being staged at several battlefronts.” Mr. Goffman served as the EPA air office’s associate assistant administrator for climate and senior counsel during the Obama administration.
Mr. Goffman is not the only one- Alan Krupnick, an economist at Resources for the Future, agreed that this review “goes way beyond just weakening the mercury rule… This is part of a change that would give the Trump administration a way to more easily justify loosening many other pollution regulations.”
Some electric utilities themselves are advising the EPA to leave the rule as it currently is. Shannon Brushe, spokeswoman for Duke Energy, stated that “[MATS] is in our rearview mirror, so we want to stick with what we’ve done… We want to be able to plan our investments for the future, but if they change the rules, that becomes difficult.”
The EPA issued a statement saying it would review whether the rule is “appropriate and necessary,” which essentially is shorthand for deciding whether the costs of the regulations outweigh the benefits.