As his second year comes to a close, agencies have set the regulatory wheels in motion to weaken or repeal almost a dozen Obama-era restrictions on air and water pollution or planet-warming emissions of carbon dioxide, including a plan to reduce the number of waterways that are protected from pollutants and another making it easier for utilities to build new coal plants. Any such change would trigger new rounds in what have already been years of court battles over regulating mercury pollution from coal plants. In its new proposal, the EPA estimates that cost at $7.4 billion to $9.6 billion annually and the benefits at just $4 million to $6 million a year. The Obama administration estimated that the measure would prevent as many as 11,000 premature deaths from asthma, other respiratory diseases or heart attacks. On Friday, Holmstead said the agency "managed to walk a very fine line" by revising a justification for the rule while leaving pollution protections in place. 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".
Under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. enacted Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) in 2011 which forced coal-fired power plants to cut mercury output. The shift could have implications for public health protections across the federal government, experts said.
Hal Quinn, head of the National Mining Association, charged in a statement Friday that the Obama administration had carried out "perhaps the largest regulatory accounting fraud perpetrated on American consumers" when it calculated that the broad health benefits to Americans would outweigh the cost of equipment upgrades by power providers. Environmental groups say the regulation has contributed to an 85 per cent reduction in mercury emissions in the past decade.
"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.
USA coal-fired power generation has fallen more than 40 percent since a peak in 2007, while natural gas-fired generation soared by about the same amount, according to the Energy Information Administration.
The proposal to weaken the mercury limits is the latest in a series of efforts the Trump administration has taken to help the struggling coal business.
The EPA proposal is open to public comment for 60 days after it is posted in the Federal Register.