The Environmental Protection Agency has issued final rules to roll back regulations on mercury and toxic air emissions from US coal and oil-fired power plants.

“After properly evaluating the compliance cost to coal- and oil-fired power plants (costs that the EPA estimated range from $7.4 to $9.6 billion annually) and the benefits attributable to regulating hazardous air pollutants (HAP) emissions from these power plants (of which the projected quantified benefits range from $4 to $6 million annually), the agency determined that it is not ‘appropriate and necessary’ to regulate HAP emissions from power plants under section 112 of the Clean Air Act,” the EPA said in a statement.

According to the Independent, “electric utilities say that the Obama-era rule led to an $18 billion cleanup of mercury and other toxins from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants, while EPA staffers’ own analysis said the rule curbed mercury’s devastating neurological damage to children, as well as preventing thousands of premature deaths annually.”

In response, the American Thoracic Society condemned the actions, saying the EPA ignored years of precedent – used by both Republican and Democratic Administrations – determining how the agency conducts cost benefit analysis of environmental regulations.  

“EPA cooked the books and ignored the health benefits that have been achieved by installing control technology to reduce mercury and air toxic emissions,” says Mary B. Rice, MD, chair of the ATS Environmental Health Policy Committee. “Our patients’ hearts and lungs are healthier when ambient air pollution is improved through mercury control technology. It is foolish and harmful to public health to ignore health benefits in order to make environmental regulation seem too expensive.”

“The EPA’s decision ignores science, economic guidance, and common sense by not considering all costs and benefits in their rule making,” says Kevin Cromar, PhD, vice-chair of the ATS Environmental Health Policy Committee.  “If there is a small consolation for this bad decision it is that industry has already largely complied with the requirements of the original rule and has done so at a fraction of the estimated costs. The real threat to public health is the EPA seeking to arbitrarily select which costs and benefits to consider when crafting future environmental health policies, but we trust the courts will see through this clumsy attempt to rewrite how good policy analysis should take place.”