Biden Administration to Reinstate Mercury Pollution Rules Weakened Under Trump

“Sound science makes it clear that we need to limit mercury and toxins in the air to protect children and vulnerable communities from dangerous pollution,” said Michael Reagan, the E.P.A. administrator. “E.P.A. is committed to aggressively reducing pollution from the power sector so that all people, regardless of ZIP code or amount of money in their pocket, can breathe clean air and live healthy and productive lives.”

E.P.A. officials had completed work to restore the mercury policy last fall, when they sent it to the White House for review. But administration officials put a hold on the policy, worried that it would antagonize industry and lawmakers just as President Biden was seeking support for his climate and social policy bill known as Build Back Better, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

After negotiations over Build Back Better collapsed in December, administration officials decided to move forward with the mercury policy while congressional Democrats try to salvage the legislation.

Environmental advocates praised the renewed enforcement of the mercury rule, which was the first federal standard to require power plants to install expensive “scrubber” technology to reduce emissions of the neurotoxin. At the time of the Trump administration rollback, many environmental law experts saw it as a first step toward eliminating other pollution limits.

“This was all an effort by the Trump administration to make the case for limiting future regulations, to make it harder to regulate the industry,” said Matthew Davis, a former E.P.A. official who helped to write the mercury rule and then left government in part because the Trump administration sought to weaken it. Mr. Davis now works for the League of Conservation Voters, an advocacy group.

When the Obama administration crafted the mercury rule, it estimated it would cost the industry $9.6 billion a year, making it the most expensive clean-air regulation in history. It also valued the direct public health benefits of reducing mercury wat $6 million a year — less than the cost to industry.

But then it tallied the “co-benefits” of installing the scrubbers: a reduction in other pollutants, including sulfur dioxide and fine particulate soot, which are linked to heart, brain, lung and respiratory diseases. Those related benefits were estimated to be worth $80 billion over five years, including the prevention of 4,700 heart attacks, 130,000 asthma attacks and 11,000 premature deaths annually.

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