The Environmental Protection Agency initiated a review of an Obama-era coal plant regulation that may end up replacing a rule seen as part of the “war on coal,” according to multiple news reports.
An EPA spokeswoman confirmed to multiple news outlets that officials were reviewing whether or not the Obama administration correctly deemed it “appropriate and necessary” to keep the regulation after it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court three years ago.
“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,” EPA spokeswoman Molly Block told E&E News.
A source familiar with the matter told The Daily Caller News Foundation what ultimately happens is “part of ongoing discussions,” but added the agency would do a more thorough analysis of the costs and benefits of mercury regulations than the Obama administration did.
The Obama administration finalized the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in 2012, but the rule did not go into effect in 2015. Coal plants either had to shut down or install costly equipment to lower mercury emissions.
The EPA claimed MATS would yield between $37 billion to $90 billion in monetized benefits, largely because it supposedly prevented 11,000 deaths. Pretty much all the benefits, however, came from “co-benefits” — the benefits from reducing pollutants outside the scope of the regulation.
Conservatives criticized the use of co-benefits because it distorted the economic impacts of the regulation. Most of the benefits came from reducing fine particulates, and when co-benefits were excluded the costs outweigh the benefits by a ratio of 1,666-to-1.
The EPA initially indicated it would put MATS under review in a 2017 court filing. With a review actually underway now, the EPA will be considering how to handle co-benefits from reducing mercury emissions.
“One of a number of issues EPA is assessing in the context of the appropriate and necessary analysis is whether and how to account for co-benefits,” Block said.
Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt promised to end the use of co-benefits before he resigned in early July. Pruitt resigned amid a flurry of alleged ethics violations.
The Supreme Court struck down the MATS regulation soon after it went into effect in 2015, ruling the EPA “acted unreasonably when it deemed cost irrelevant to the decision to regulate power plants.”
“No regulation is ‘appropriate’ if it does significantly more harm than good,” former Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority, siding with 21 states and the coal industry that sued the EPA.
The high court sent the case back to a low court, which allowed the EPA to keep MATS in place. The EPA then performed an updated cost-benefit analysis of the rule, as ordered by the court, arguing it was still justified.
The Obama administration found the rule “appropriate and necessary” and reissued it in 2016. MATS earned cheers from environmentalists and solidified the resentment of coal country.
Most coal plants still in operation complied with the rule, which EPA estimated would cost $9.6 billion. However, MATS’ compliance year saw a record number of coal plants retire, and the following year of 2016 also saw a wave of retirements as plants that got an extension from EPA deactivated.
Environmentalists said reviewing MATS would be reckless since most coal-fired power plants already comply and have billed their ratepayers for the upgrades.
“This is reckless chaos for the sake of chaos,” John Walke, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The New York Times. “The power sector is fully complying and has appealed to EPA publicly, with labor organizations, to leave the standards alone.”
However, critics of MATS say the rule does little to actually protect public health through targeting mercury.
Calculations done by former Competitive Enterprise Institute fellow Will Yeatman found the rule would only protect a “putative population of pregnant subsidence fisherwomen, not one of whom EPA actually identified in the course of rendering the rule.”
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