EPA May Scrap Limit on How Much Mercury Coal Plants Can Spew

By: Eric Levitz, Source: New York Magazine, Originally Published: 4.19.17

In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency passed a rule limiting the amount of heavy metals that coal-fired power plants could spew into the air. The agency’s research suggested that the rule would prevent 11,000 deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks every year. These findings meant that, for every dollar spent on enforcing the new regulation, the public would enjoy up to $9 in avoided medical costs.

But the Obama administration’s coastal elites failed to understand that the forgotten men and women of America’s heartland actually want their children exposed to dangerous levels of mercury — if that’s what it takes to maximize energy companies’ profit margins. And so, many red states stood up for their constituents’ inalienable right to die from preventable asthma attacks, and sued the federal government over the EPA’s rule.

In Oklahoma, then–attorney general Scott Pruitt led that valiant effort. Now, as the EPA prepares to defend its rule in court, the agency’s new head, Scott Pruitt, is asking his new underlings a simple question: Is this really worth defending?

Here’s a quick primer on the legal fight that Pruitt appears set to give up: In 2015, the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that the EPA had not adequately assessed the potential costs of the regulation. That decision put the rule’s future in the hands of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. To keep the regulation alive, the EPA would need to demonstrate that repealing the limit would do more harm than good, or else that the agency did, in fact, adequately consider the costs of its rule. Oral arguments were scheduled for May 18.

But this week, Pruitt’s EPA asked for that court date to be pushed back, as it would need time to “fully review” its past findings, “in light of the recent change in administration.” That decision comes even as a majority of utilities in the United States are already on pace to meet the new emissions standards.

Since Trump took office, the EPA has already taken legal action to delay Obama-era regulations on emissions of methane, ozone, and carbon.

Last month, a Gallup poll found that 59 percent of Americans believe “the environment should be prioritized over energy production.”