October 5, 2018 - The Environmental Protection Agency "has completed a detailed legal proposal to dramatically weaken a major environmental regulation covering mercury, a toxic chemical emitted from coal-burning power plants, according to a person who has seen the document but is not authorized to speak publicly about it," Coral Davenport reports for The New York Times. The plan would repeal an Obama-era finding that when EPA regulates toxic pollution such as mercury from coal-fired power plants, it must consider additional health benefits of the side effect of reducing other pollutants. "The economic benefits of those health effects, known as 'co-benefits,' helped to provide a legal and economic justification for the cost to industry of the regulation," Davenport writes.
The Obama administration estimated that the mercury rule cost the electric utility industry $9.6 billion a year, making it the most expensive clean-air regulation ever. It found that reducing mercury brings up to $6 million a year in health benefits, plus $80 billion in benefits from reducing the soot and nitrogen oxide that occur as a side effect. Though the proposal wouldn't completely eliminate the mercury regulation, it's designed to provide the legal justification for the administration to weaken several pollution rules and possibly repeal the rules eventually, Davenport reports.
Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, is expected to send the proposal to the White House soon. Wheeler's former boss, Robert Murray of Murray Energy Corp., was a major donor to President Trump's inauguration fund and personally requested the rollback of the mercury rule as part of a written wish list he gave to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Davenport reports.
The proposal also highlights a possible consequence of confirming Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. When the coal industry sued to roll back the mercury regulation, it lost its case in the U.S. Court of Appeals but Kavanaugh wrote the dissenting opinion, leading observers to believe that he would side with the coal industry in similar Supreme Court cases.