The EPA will reconsider its rationale for setting limits on toxic power plant air pollution with an eye toward revising those emissions limits, the agency told Bloomberg Environment Aug. 29.
In the coming weeks, the Environmental Protection Agency said it will ask the White House Office of Management and Budget to review a draft proposal that questions whether it was “appropriate and necessary” to set standards in 2012 for mercury and other toxic air pollution emitted by existing power plants. It also will consider the “standards set by the rule itself,” EPA spokeswoman Molly Block said in an Aug. 29 email.
“One of a number of issues EPA is assessing in the context of the appropriate and necessary analysis is striking the right balance when accounting for co-benefits,” Block added.
The Trump administration has initiated several plans to ease regulations on the coal sector, including a recent proposal to replace Obama-era carbon limits on utilities known as the Clean Power Plan.
The power industry and some states criticized the Obama-era EPA for relying on the health benefits of reducing pollution such as airborne particles not directly regulated by the mercury standards, known as co-benefits, to justify the emissions limits.
In 2012, the EPA estimated that the rule would yield between $37 billion and $90 billion in annual benefits. The great majority of the quantified benefits, however, would arise from installing technology that also would reduce airborne particle pollution, resulting in 4,200 to 11,000 fewer related premature deaths.
Under the upcoming proposal, the EPA may decide to change or even revoke the current 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards or MATS (RIN: 2060-AP52, RIN 2060–AR31), which required most power plants to comply by 2016.
Power Sector Wants Rule to Stay
Though the power sector opposes the regulation, it has had no choice but to install expensive pollution controls, switch coal plants over to natural gas, or shutter aging power plants. Now that the compliance deadlines have passed, many in the power sector want the rule to stay because they say coal- and oil-fired power plants have already made the necessary investments.
The Supreme Court required the EPA in 2015 in Michigan v. EPA to take the power industry’s compliance costs into account when determining whether it was necessary to regulate the toxic pollution. The agency put out a subsequent determination supporting regulation after taking costs into account.
Under this determination, the EPA estimated the total annual cost of the rule would amount to an estimated $9.6 billion, which includes annual capital and production costs to the sector for 2015.
“EPA knows these issues are of importance to the regulated community and the public at large and is committed to a thoughtful and transparent regulatory process in addressing them,” Block said.