WASHINGTON (CN) — Top congressional Democrats heaped praise on the White House Wednesday in response to a proposal aimed at drastically reducing certain air pollutants emitted by coal- and oil-fired power plants.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed an amendment to its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that, if finalized, would reduce the emissions limit for filterable air pollutants by 67%. The agency is also proposing a roughly 70% reduction in limits on mercury emissions for power plants fired by a type of low-grade coal known as lignite.
Officials say the proposed rules change would be the most significant update since the standards — often abbreviated as MATS — since they were established in 2012.
“Today’s proposal will support and strengthen EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which have delivered a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions from power plants over pre-standard levels, ensuring historic protections for communities across the nation, especially for our children and our vulnerable populations,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement Wednesday.
The agency said that it decided to tighten MATS restrictions, which require coal and oil power plants to take steps to significantly reduce mercury, acid gases and other air pollutants, after examining a review of the emissions standards from the Trump administration. In 2020, under then-Administrator Andrew Wheeler, the EPA walked back a legal finding that deemed it necessary for the federal government to regulate emissions from coal and oil power plants.
Emissions of mercury, nickel, arsenic and lead — any of which can cause cancer, developmental defects or other severe health problems — will all see lower thresholds under the proposed rule. The EPA argued that the increased regulations would benefit Indigenous and low-income communities among the vulnerable populations who live near coal or oil power plants.
Pointing to industry data, the agency said 2021 emissions levels from coal facilities were around 90% lower than before the regulations were introduced a decade ago. It says this demonstrates the success that MATS standards have achieved in reducing air pollutants from power plants.
On Capitol Hill, one of President Biden’s Democratic allies on the Senate’s environmental issues panel hailed the move.
“The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards continue to be a remarkable, cost-effective success in reducing mercury and other toxic air pollution,” said Delaware Senator Tom Carper, who chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “EPA’s proposed rule would build on the progress made to better protect communities. This science-based rule will ensure that power plants use modern pollution control technology, which will help save lives and support a healthy economy.”
Meanwhile, the committee’s Republican leadership framed the proposed MATS update as a move to choke out the U.S. coal industry.
“The Biden administration continues to wage war on coal and affordable, reliable energy by issuing unnecessary regulations intended to drive down electricity production from our nation’s baseload power resources,” West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito said in a statement. The Senate environment panel’s ranking member argued that current MATS standards adequately protect public health and that the administration’s proposed rules change puts an unnecessary squeeze on coal plant operators.
“With one job-killing regulation after another, the EPA continues to threaten the livelihoods of those in West Virginia and other energy-producing communities across the country,” Capito said.
The EPA in February defended its authority to tighten power plant emissions standards, part of an administration-stewarded effort to reinstate MATS and other Obama-era environmental protections that were scrapped by the Trump administration.
Members of the public can file comments with the EPA on the proposed rules change for around two months, or 60 days.Follow @@BenjaminSWeiss
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