EPA proposes rule on mercury emissions that could spark lawsuits

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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.

The EPA said the proposal is meant to "correct flaws".

In announcing the new proposed rule, the Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement that the costs of cutting mercury from power plants "dwarfs" the monetary benefits. The rule places limits on the amount of mercury that a power plant can emit.

Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage children's brains and impair intellectual and motor skills.

The 2011 Obama administration rule, called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, led to what electric utilities say was an $18 billion clean-up of mercury and other toxins from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants.

'Virtually every coal plant in the USA has already met this lifesaving standard, and now Trump is recklessly trying to roll it back, ' she said. Today, coal plant closures continue not because of the MATS rule but because coal can't compete with cheaper and relatively cleaner natural gas. The federal Energy Information Administration says USA coal consumption in 2018 is expected to be at its lowest level in almost four decades.

The public will have 60 days to comment on it before a final rule is issued.

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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.

In a statement, the EPA said it is "providing regulatory certainty by transparently and accurately taking account of both costs and benefits".

Ann Weeks, senior counsel for the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group, criticized the rule as "bean counting", and said, "This is not tax law".

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

With this action, EPA is also setting a risky precedent that a federal agency - charged with protecting the environment and public health - will no longer factor in all the clear health, environmental and economics benefits of clean air policies, such as reducing cancer and birth defects.

He and other opponents of the move said the Trump administration was playing with numbers, ignoring what Carper said were clear health, environmental and economic benefits to come up with a bottom line that suited the administration's deregulatory aims.

Coming one week into a government shutdown, and in the lull between Christmas and New Year, "this low-key announcement shouldn't fool anyone - it is a big deal, with significant implications", McCabe said.

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