For the better part of the last two years, Donald Trump has been attempting to roll back mercury regulations put in place by the Obama administration under the guise that the restrictions are not "appropriate and necessary." A new analysis of the rules, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), published in the journal Science this week tells a different story. According to the researchers, the Environmental Protection Agency, under Trump, “ignores scientific evidence, economic best practice, and its own guidance.”
The analysis points out that in making the decision to roll back the prior administration's regulations, the EPA leaned on the same research conducted in 2011 to first establish the mercury standards. Using that information, the administration calculated that the rules only produce a "few million dollars a year in measurable health benefits." According to the researchers, this significantly discounts nine years of additional research that has brought to light some of the dangers of mercury pollution. That includes new research that shows exposure to mercury can put people at a greater risk of experiencing heart attacks, and indications that the neurotoxin has links to brain damage, autoimmune disorders, and developmental disabilities like autism. The experts argue that by choosing not to take that new information into account, Trump's EPA has failed to accurately account for the health benefits provided by the mercury restrictions.
In addition to ignoring new evidence about the direct health benefits of limiting mercury exposure, researchers claim the administration has also largely ignored the indirect benefits, like pushing power plants to switch to cleaner fuel sources and limiting harmful pollution. The standards have been wildly successful at this. Mercury emissions from power plants have declined by 85 percent thanks to MATS applying new federal restrictions on mercury and some states taking those limits even further. Researchers found that the EPA rulemaking process did not account for the significant shift that the energy sector has undergone in the nearly one decade that the rules have been in place. A significant shift to natural gas and renewable energy alternatives has taken place, and the need for mercury-emitting coal is no longer necessary. But, once again, the administration focused its analysis on how things were in 2011, not how things are now.
Perhaps the oddest part of Trump's insistence on going forward with the MATS rollback is that not even the energy sector is asking for it. While there was significant pushback from the industry when the Obama administration first implemented the rule, adapting to the regulations cost energy companies far less than expected and ended up saving them between $37 and $90 billion. According to a report from the Washington Post, some of the largest utilities and power plant companies in the country have reached out to the administration to tell them the change is “entirely unnecessary, unreasonable, and universally opposed by the power generation sector.” Yet it appears Trump and the EPA will continue to push forward, intending to finalize the rule change this year — a change that harms the public and is based on outdated information.