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EPA Proposal Could Weaken Mercury Rule Power Companies Wanted Kept in Place

The EPA argues the Obama Administration inflated the benefits of the rule.

A now-shuttered coal plant near Rockport, Texas. The plant closed in early 2018.

A new Trump Administration proposal could weaken federal limits on mercury pollution from power plants. The move comes even as Texas power utilities have said the rule is working.

In July, trade groups representing power companies and utilities across the state and the country asked the EPA to keep an Obama-era rule on mercury emissions “in place and effective.”

In a letter to the agency, the groups said nationwide, the federal rule, similar state regulations and other factors have led to an almost 90 percent drop in mercury pollution, and that the industry has spent more than $18 billion installing new mercury controls at plants.

The groups did ask the EPA to consider “potential technical revisions” to the rule, including less-frequent performance tests if power plants aren’t running as often.

The EPA acknowledges the progress, and says it’s not trying to weaken or roll back the rule with the new proposal.

“It is not intended to roll-back or reduce important health protections associated with the continued reduction of Mercury,” EPA spokesperson John Konkus said in a statement.

Still, the agency argues the Obama Administration inflated the benefits of the rule, compared to how much it would cost companies. So, the agency is trying to reconfigure how cost-benefit calculations are handled.

That could mean health benefits of the mercury rule and other regulations are given less weight when the administration considers whether rules are justified, as The New York Times has explained:

"This goes way beyond just weakening the mercury rule," said Alan Krupnick, an economist at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan Washington research organization. "This is part of a change that would give the Trump administration a way to more easily justify loosening many other pollution regulations, such as rules on smog, and rules on climate-change pollution."

For example, Mr. Krupnick and other experts said, tweaking the formulas could also make it easier for the E.P.A. to justify its separate proposal last month to replace the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era rule that was designed to cut global-warming emissions from power plants.

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