The EPA Relaxes Rule on Mercury Pollution By Greatly Tipping Scales to Favor Polluters

Photo: Moms Clean Air Force

On Thursday, the Trump Administration continued its environmental armageddon by changing the way costs and benefits of rules are calculated in favor of polluters and thus fundamentally weakening current regulatory protections from mercury and other toxic metals emitted by oil and coal-fired power plants. As The New York Times explained, “[b]y reducing the positive health effects of regulations on paper and raising their economic costs, the new method could be used to justify loosening restrictions on any pollutant that the fossil fuel industry has deemed too costly to control.”

Why This Matters:  The polluters win again – President Trump continues to deliver for his big donors.  As thousands of Americans are fighting for their lives due to the malfeasance of the Trump Administration and its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Administration is rolling back another air pollution rule that will endanger tens of thousands more unnecessarily.  And this sets a dangerous precedent for reducing the protections other rules provide by putting a fat thumb on the scale for big businesses — particularly the ones that pollute the most.

The Announcement Was Met With Outrage

Former EPA Administrator Carol Browner expressed her anger about the rollback, calling it a “sinister Trojan horse” that “will undermine how the EPA considers science and evaluates economic benefits of regulations in the future…It’s nothing other than a giveaway to big polluters that will be paid for with thousands of lives, especially of those in the most vulnerable communities.”

David Konisky, a professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University told The Times, “This is less about mercury than about potentially constraining or handcuffing future efforts by the E.P.A. to regulate air pollution.”

The Adminstration’s “New Math”

When it put the rule in place, the Obama administration calculated the costs of the rule to industry to be between up to $9.6 billion each year to comply with the regulation, but the benefits experienced by society from less pollution would be between $37 billion and $90 billion thanks to the prevention of thousands of premature deaths and lost work days. But, as The Washington Post reports, the cost-benefit rules of the Obama Administration allowed the government to factor into the calculation the additional benefits created by corresponding pollution reductions in soot and other smog-forming pollutants that contribute to asthma and other respiratory problems. The Trump Administration decided that to add in the “co-benefits” to the cost/benefit calculation was using “creative math” to justify overly burdensome regulations.

Why’d They Do It?

Ironically, most of the utility industry was complying with the regulations and did not seek out this relief.  But one of the President’s largest campaign contributors, Robert E. Murray, the former chief executive of Murray Energy Corporation, put this rule rollback at the top of his  “wish list” that he delivered to the administration right after the president took office. Murray left the company the day it declared bankruptcy last October.  The company’s creditors on Tuesday alleged that the company breached its $450 million chapter 11 financing package.

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