Trump EPA orders rollback of Obama mercury regulations

Trump EPA orders rollback of Obama mercury regulations

The long-term impact would be significant: It would weaken the ability of the EPA to impose new regulations in the future by adjusting the way the agency measures the benefits of curbing pollutants, giving less weight to the potential health gains.

In July, electric utilities and utility groups favoring the rule asked the administration to keep it in place.

The proposal, which now goes up for public comment, is the latest Trump administration move that changes estimates of the costs and payoffs of regulations in arguing for relaxing Obama-era environmental protections.

The Trump administration will consider abolishing a regulation that has helped dramatically reduce mercury pollution from coal-fired power stations, saying the costs outweigh the health benefits.

Wheeler, a noted former lobbyist for coal energy companies, was chosen by Trump as acting EPA administrator after Wheeler's predecessor, Scott Pruitt, was forced out over several embezzling scandals in July.

The EPA said it would take comments on its proposal for the next 60 days and hold at least one public hearing before making a final ruling.

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The EPA on Friday proposed a new rule that challenges the basis for the Obama regulation. Coal power plants in this country are the largest single manmade source of mercury pollutants, which enters the food chain through fish and other items that people consume. Mercury can cause brain damage, learning disabilities and birth defects in children, as well as problems for women during pregnancy.

Estimates like that, however, are at the heart of the current dispute.

If adopted, the change would prevent regulators from calculating positive health effects - known as "co-benefits" - that come from reducing pollutants other than those being targeted.

Research shows that when coal is burned, it releases mercury into the air, posing a health risk, particularly for babies developing in the womb and young children.

The Obama administration also broadly accepted that it's hard to put a specific dollar-figure on some health benefits - for instance, avoiding lost IQ points in infants (or other fetal harm), which has been linked to pregnant women eating mercury-contaminated fish.

Howard Learner, the executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, added he felt the decision would threaten famous American waters.

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