The Environmental Protection Agency neutralized one of the legal justifications former President Barack Obama used to craft a regulation that many conservatives believe kickstarted a so-called war on coal.
Obama’s EPA determined in 2016 that requiring coal-fired plants to dramatically cut mercury output was justified because it saved consumers money. The Trump administration has long-sought to “fix flaws” in the Supplemental Cost Finding for the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS.
The EPA’s decision Thursday prevents the agency from weighing the “co-benefits” the Obama EPA used to justify the standards.
“Under this action, no more mercury will be emitted into the air than before,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a press statement. “EPA is following through on the Supreme Court’s direction and correcting the previous administration’s flawed cost finding in its original rule.”
He added: “This is another example of the EPA, under the Trump administration, following the law while making reasonable regulatory decisions that are fully protective of the public health and environment.”
Trump’s approach to the MATS rule considered “targeted” pollutants like mercury rather than the co-benefits from reductions of a treasure trove of pollutants.
“Under the Obama-era approach, the cost-benefit scales are set so any regulation could be justified regardless of costs,” Wheeler told reporters Thursday.
The EPA estimated companies would have to shell out between $7.4 billion to $9.6 billion a year to comply with MATS while the benefits for reducing mercury and other hazardous air pollutants, or HAPs, range from $4 million to $6 million annually.
Supporters of the coal industry believe MATS is a major part of the “war on coal” because it resulted in coal plant closures. Obama’s EPA misused “co-benefits” — estimated monetary benefits from incidentally reducing other pollutants — to disguise the high cost of MATS, conservatives argued.
Trump is fixing Obama’s mistakes, according to Thomas Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance.
“Today’s rule reconsideration is another in a long line of regulatory corrections made by the Trump administration aimed at more accurately following the letter of the law and balancing the cost-benefit relationship between protecting our health and maintaining a vibrant energy industry, which is essential to keeping prices affordable for American families,” Pyle noted in a press statement addressing the EPA’s decision.
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