EPA proposes new rule that could allow fewer restrictions on toxins

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant spews in Glenrock Wyo. The EPA is revisiting a 2011 rule limiting mercury emissions from coal plants

The Trump administration Friday announced a plan created to make it easier for coal-fired power plants, after almost a decade of restrictions, to once again release mercury and other pollutants linked to developmental disorders and respiratory illnesses into the atmosphere. In a letter to the EPA last summer, utilities and regulatory and labor groups said mercury emissions had been reduced by almost 90 percent over the past decade.

"The Trump EPA's proposal to weaken mercury and air toxics pollution reduction standards threatens children's health and the Great Lakes", he said in a statement. Weeks called the EPA's estimates outdated and said more recent research finds billions of dollars in public health benefits from reducing mercury emissions alone.

Mercury causes brain damage, learning disabilities and other birth defects in children, among other harm.

Under former President Barack Obama, the USA enacted Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS) in 2011 which forced coal-fired power plants to cut mercury output.

Environmental groups fear the move is a step toward rolling back toxic-emissions standards for coal-fired plants. Indeed, when the rule went into full effect in 2015, 30 percent of coal plant closures were tied to the cost of compliance with the rule.

Trump's industry allies, including Robert Murray, CEO of private coal mining giant Murray Energy Corp, had complained that the MATS rule contributed to the demise of the coal business by triggering hundreds of coal-fired power plant shutdowns and driving coal demand to its lowest in decades.

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The EPA proposal is open to public comment for 60 days after it is posted in the Federal Register.

The EPA is not seeking to remove the mercury limitations, outlined under the 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, but critics are saying the proposed change in calculations sets a risky precedent for future regulations associated with public health.

Friday's move is the latest by the Trump administration that changes estimates of the costs and payoffs of regulations as part of an overhaul of Obama-era environmental protections.

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".

Senator Tom Carper, the ranking Democrat on the US Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, spoke out against the move.

The EPA has "decided to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory" after the successful clean-up of toxins from the country's coal-plant smokestacks, Carper said.

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