States Claim EPA Illegally Eased Off Mercury Pollution Standards

A coal-fired plant in Winfield, W.Va, is seen from an apartment complex in the town of Poca across the Kanawha River in 2018. (AP Photo/John Raby, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — A coalition of 20 states asked the D.C. Circuit Monday to review the Environmental Protection Agency’s determination that it is not necessary to limit mercury and other hazardous air pollutants emitted from power plants. 

The states plan to argue in the D.C. Circuit that the Trump administration undermined the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards and exceeded its authority when it determined limits on mercury and other pollutants emitted from coal-and-oil-fired power plants were not “appropriate.”

The standards helped reduce power-plant mercury emissions by 86% between 2006 and 2017 and resulted in a drop of tens of thousands of premature deaths related to air pollutants, the states argued, contending the Trump administration violated the Clean Air Act by disregarding the life-saving benefits.

The decision in May to change course on the regulations comes after an original conclusion that the standards were critical. That conclusion, made in 2016, was backed by detailed findings that massive benefits outweighed estimated costs, the states claim. 

The downturn in public health problems was matched by more than $1 billion in economic activity, the states argue, citing a recent EPA study on the Clean Air Act. 

The EPA’s reversal relied on outdated cost estimates, while ignoring the risk to public health if the fossil fuel-fired power plants operate under loosened regulations, the states further allege. 

“The Trump Administration is turning a blind eye to the massive benefits of limiting air pollution at a time when our country can least afford it,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Tuesday.

Published May 22, the new rule is titled: “National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants: Coal- and Oil-Fired Electric Utility Steam Generating Units—Reconsideration of Supplemental Finding and Residual Risk and Technology Review.”

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Becerra argued that the Trump administration has rigged the rulemaking process to prop up the fossil-fuel industry. 

“With respiratory illness on the rise, the Trump Administration should be battening down the hatches to ensure that these life-saving standards continue to protect the communities hit first and worst by air pollution,” the attorney general said. 

The lawsuit comes as the Trump administration fights other legal battles over pollution regulation rollbacks during the coronavirus pandemic. The Department of Justice said the EPA does not comment on pending litigation. 

Becerra joined the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin and the District of Columbia in the lawsuit. The cities of Baltimore, Chicago, and New York and Erie County also joined in filing the petition on Tuesday.

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