Updated: Feb 19
The U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to roll back an Obama-era regulation that among its benefits protects kids from brain damage even before they are born.
The regulation involved is designed to limit harmful pollutants, like mercury, from power plants. The Trump administration wants it watered down to help the coal industry, even though that could put our health at risk.
Ironically, the electric power industry, which originally opposed the regulation when the Obama administration first launched it in 2011, now opposes the EPA's rollback, saying they've already complied and the result has been far fewer pollutants being emitted by power plants.
The rule at issue is the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which targets a neurotoxin that can affect the IQ and motor skills of children, even in utero. And, it has worked because between 2006 when states started curbing mercury from coal plants and 2016 when the regulation took full effect, emissions declined by 85 percent.
The Trump administration's action is intended to help Trump's favorite industry, coal, whose executives have lobbied for the changes as the regulation prompted the nation's utilities to switch away from coal fired plants to other fuels, such as natural gas.
Of course, there are political ramifications here -- as usual.
Coal producing states, such as West Virginia, are critical to Trump's hopes for reelection and you can bet he will be bragging about how he's ended Obama's "War on Coal" in his red-hat rallies in coal country.
The EPA's plan is part of a broad effort by the administration to overhaul how the government calculates the health benefits of cleaner air, an effort sought by the coal industry. EPA plans to declare that it is not "appropriate or necessary" for the government to limit harmful pollutants from power plants -- even though the utility companies all have complied with those Obama-era standards.
Technically, the existing restrictions on mercury will be kept in place, but under the watered down regulation, the government no longer will be able to count collateral benefits, like reducing soot and smog, when it sets limits on toxic air pollutions.
“They’ve unsheathed an incredibly sharp sword,” University of Chicago professor Michael Greenstone, an energy and environmental economist, told The Washington Post. “And there’s no reason that sword can’t be used to roll back other regulations that have produced extraordinarily large benefits for American society.”
The Post also noted that Trump's regulation has been stuck at the White House where staffers are trying to figure out which cost impact estimates to use. But expect it to happen soon as Trump puts the heat on so he has plenty of accomplishments to brag about in the coming campaign.
That's some accomplishment -- rolling back anti-pollution rules that keep kids from suffering brain damage, even before they are born.