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OpinionEditorial

Rollback of EPA rule would make our air dirtier

Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection

Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks to members of the media after signing the Affordable Clean Energy Rule at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, June 19, 2019. President Donald Trump is ending an Obama-era requirement that power plants reduce toxic pollutants, including mercury, in their emissions. Credit: Bloomberg/Al Drago

Of all of the environmental rollbacks pushed by the Trump administration in its zealous pursuit of reducing regulations, perhaps the most insidious is this one — an end to the Obama-era requirement that power plants reduce toxic pollutants, including mercury, in their emissions.

This is a profoundly bad idea.

The regulation has been wildly successful. Since it took effect in 2012, electric companies have cut mercury emissions by nearly 90 percent, according to industry group Edison Electric Institute. Mercury levels in Atlantic Ocean fish have dropped since there is less mercury pollution blown over those waters. And remember, mercury is a nasty neurotoxin that can affect brain development and motor skills in children, even in utero.

The administration boasts that it's unshackling companies from complying with tough environmental standards. But in this case, companies are saying: No thanks. Major power suppliers Exelon and American Electric Power, and the Edison institute that represents them, are urging the Environmental Protection Agency to keep the rule. Utilities have complied with the standards. Many switched from coal to natural gas or renewables to avoid costly pollution controls. That's great.

The rollback is a sop to the dying coal industry. Its architect is EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist. Its underlying rationale — that the cost-benefit calculation required to justify new rules should not include indirect benefits from the mercury rule like the reductions in soot, nitrogen oxide, arsenic, chromium, nickel and particle pollution — is despicable.

The Trump administration is making our air and water dirtier in the name of regulation reduction. That's a terrible trade-off, however you calculate it.

— The editorial board

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