SALT LAKE CITY — Controversy over pollutants from coal-fired power plants moved to a higher level Thursday after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it had revised a cost benefit analysis over the impacts of mercury emissions regulations imposed during the Obama era.
The federal agency said the restrictions on mercury emissions through technology controls were not justified, backing a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision that directed the agency to complete another review.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, in a teleconference, said the 2012 Obama-era rule remains in place and no additional mercury emissions will happen due to the revised analysis.
He added that critics of the Thursday announcement are either purposefully misreading the revisions or don’t understand.
“Let me be clear, no more mercury will be emitted into the air than before,” he said.
In a major victory for the energy industry, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against federal regulators’ attempts to curb mercury emissions from power plants in 2015, saying the government wrongly failed to take cost into consideration.
The 5-4 decision overturned the landmark rule, which was the first attempt by the EPA to curb mercury and other pollutants from coal-fired power plants.
Michigan’s lawsuit against the regulation was joined by 21 other GOP-led states, including Utah, in a fight to get it tossed.
The new “supplemental cost finding” announced by the federal agency found compliance costs for mercury emissions at power plants ranging from $7.4 billion to $9.6 billion annually due to the rule and the benefits in terms of reduction in costs such as health care to be around $6 million.
Wheeler added that the Obama administration’s approach was that any new regulation could be justified, regardless of the cost.
“We believe this approach is dishonest,” he said.
Moms Clean Air Force issued a statement expressing its outrage over the move.
“While America suffers devastating public health impacts of the coronavirus outbreak — a lethal respiratory pandemic — Andrew Wheeler and the Trump administration continue their cynical campaign to protect industrial polluters and undermine lifesaving pollution protections,” said co-founder Dominique Browning.
The organization added that the EPA is gambling with the health of children by giving any sort of nod to coal-fired power plants.
Wheeler dismissed any criticism, again reiterating the revision released Thursday was the result of a court-directed action to correct flaws of a previous administration’s conclusions over costs and benefits.
“It is an honest accounting,” he said.