EPA says ‘not necessary’ for coal plants to comply with mercury limits

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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.

But the new EPA finding would conclude it's not "appropriate" for the agency to regulate the toxic emissions.

Overall, environmental groups say, federal and state efforts have cut mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 85 percent in roughly the last decade. Andrew Wheeler, the acting EPA administration signed the proposal.

The EPA proposal is open to public comment for 60 days after it is posted in the Federal Register.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in a proposed reversal of yet another Obama-era rule, said rules preventing coal-fired power plants from releasing mercury should not be considered "appropriate and necessary".

The coal industry had challenged a 2016 conclusion by Obama's EPA that the rule was justified because savings to USA consumers on healthcare costs would exceed compliance costs. Murray, chief executive of Murray Energy Corp., personally requested the rollback of the mercury rule soon after Trump took office.

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With this action, EPA is also setting a unsafe 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. In a statement, she said the warming climate, for example, might affect mercury's impact on the environment but the EPA's proposal could make it harder to address that. On Friday, Holmstead said the agency "managed to walk a very fine line" by revising a justification for the rule while leaving pollution protections in place. Mercury emitted into the air can end up in soil and water, where it has "toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes", in addition to causing developmental defects in children and babies, according to the World Health Organization.

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

"What has changed now is the administration's attitude towards public health", said Clean Air Task Force Legal Director Ann Weeks in a statement.

The Obama administration found up to $6 million annually in health benefits directly from curbing mercury.

A study published this month by Harvard University's School of Public Health said coal-fired power plants are the top source of mercury in the United States, accounting for almost half of mercury emissions in 2015. It would consider only the benefits that can be directly translated into dollars and cents.