Trump administration discounts public health benefits in mercury rule

The Trump administration has plans to remove the legal underpinning of air pollution protections controlling the amount of mercury and toxic air pollutants spewed from coal-fired power plants.

In remarkably tone-deaf timing, the Trump administration announced it will remove the legal underpinning of air pollution protections controlling the amount of mercury and toxic air pollutants spewed from coal-fired power plants at a time when scientists are beginning to link poor COVID-19 outcomes with lungs damaged by air pollution.

The move by the Trump EPA will leave in place the established pollution standards for the amount of mercury that can be emitted from coal-fired power plants, but will declare the legal basis for setting those pollution standards to be invalid.

The Trump EPA claims the expense to industry outweighs the health benefits from cutting pollution from mercury and other air toxics. However, the EPA is relying on old and inflated cost projections that were rendered obsolete when the actual costs to comply turned out to be much lower.

This move by the White House is completely unjustified not least because industry has already largely complied with MATS, and mercury pollution has dropped. But it is yet another in a long list of examples of the Trump EPA looking out more for polluters than the people who suffer from the pollution.”

—Senior Attorney Deborah Murray

Worse, the EPA is downplaying another critical benefit of MATS, something the industry calls a “co-benefit.” When industries installed technologies to cut mercury emissions, that technology also removed soot as well. Under the Obama administration, the EPA determined these “co-benefits” should be counted as a tangible health benefit. But the Trump EPA says these important additional benefits from the MATS rule should not be included in the equation.

“This move by the White House is completely unjustified not least because industry has already largely complied with MATS, and mercury pollution has dropped.” said Deborah Murray, an SELC senior attorney. “But it is yet another in a long list of examples of the Trump EPA looking out more for polluters than the people who suffer from the pollution.”

This White House move comes as the nation’s health-care professionals are stretched thin trying to save the lives of people stricken by COVID-19. Scientists are starting to link exposure to air pollution – and the lung damage air pollution causes – to increased mortality risks from the virus.

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