(Getty/acilo)

EPA prefers coal plants over people

Expect more poisoned fish and more unhealthy mothers as the agency prepares to roll back the mercury emissions rule


Sarah Okeson
May 13, 2019 9:00AM (UTC)
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The cost to babies whose IQs are stunted because their mothers ate mercury-laced fish while pregnant pales for EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler in comparison to the costs imposed on coal-fired power plants to make their mercury-emitting plants safer.

Wheeler twisted the math for a proposed federal rule to knock out the legal justification for safer standards under Obama, claiming that “the only health benefit” to reducing mercury emissions “that the EPA could quantify and monetize” was the children’s IQ loss.

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“By taking away the legal justification for the standard, they’re making it very easy for challengers to say that the standard can’t survive,” said Richard Revesz, the director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University. “The consequences are enormous, and the analysis is atrocious. You won’t find a single respectable economist who would say this is a plausible methodology.”

Campaign donor’s list

In March 2017, coal magnate Robert Murray, who donated $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration, gave the Energy Department a wish list that included rescinding or revising the mercury standard, which Murray Energy had sued to block. Wheeler is a former lobbyist, and Murray Energy was his best-paying client.

Wheeler ignored the other projected benefits of the current rule that prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, about 130,000 asthma attacks, 5,700 hospital and emergency room visits and more than 3 million days of restricted activity.

In our country, coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury emissions, accounting for 42% of emissions in 2014.

A threat to unborn babies

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Babies and fetuses are most at risk from mercury. The results mimic cerebral palsy at the highest levels of exposure. High levels of mercury are also associated with heart disease and high blood pressure.

It’s difficult to consume the amount of fish recommended by the American Heart Association while also remaining at safe mercury levels because of high mercury levels in most fish.

Recent studies suggest that the benefits of reducing mercury emissions are much larger than those found in a 2011 analysis the Obama EPA used to justify the mercury standard. A 2016 study found that the benefits are more than $43 billion if potentially lost wages, medical costs from lowered IQs, premature deaths and nonfatal heart attacks are looked at. The estimated cost of compliance is less than $1 billion a year.

Since the mercury rule went into effect in 2012, mercury emissions from U.S. coal-fired power plants decreased by 79,000 pounds, or 86%, between 2006 and 2016 and 83,000 pounds, or 89%, from 2007 and 2017.

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Sarah Okeson

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