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Economists Fault EPA Mercury Rule Proposal

Reducing mercury emissions also cuts sulfur dioxide and particulate pollution. (Paul Souders/Danita Delimont/Adobe Stock)
Reducing mercury emissions also cuts sulfur dioxide and particulate pollution. (Paul Souders/Danita Delimont/Adobe Stock)
December 5, 2019

NEW YORK – A new report says the Trump administration's proposal to weaken rules for emissions of mercury and other toxic substances is based on a faulty economic analysis.

The report, from the External Environmental Economics Advisory Committee, says the cost-benefit analysis used to justify the rule change is based on outdated data, didn't use the best available science and underestimates the benefits of the current rule while overestimating its costs.

According to report coauthor Joe Aldy, a professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, the analysis ignores the public health benefits associated with cutting mercury emissions such as reducing the risk of heart attacks.

"Some of this recent research suggests that the impact there may be on the order of billions of dollars a year in terms of the public health benefits of reducing those heart attacks if we reduce people's exposure to mercury," he points out.

The EPA's analysis says the Obama-era rule only saves about $6 million a year. The agency is expected to issue a final rule by the end of this year.

Aldy points out that one reason the EPA's estimate of health benefits from the mercury rule is so low is that it eliminates the effect of reduced particulate and sulfur dioxide emissions, which are reduced when mercury emissions are cut.

"That's a large category of benefits that's estimated by EPA in their initial analysis in 2011 of up to $90 billion of public health benefits per year," he states.

The EPA says it is not doing away with the mercury rule, but the Trump administration is expected to overturn the finding that regulating power plant emissions is "appropriate and necessary."

Aldy notes that throwing out that finding would eliminate the legal basis for having the rule at all.

"Doing so creates potentially some legal risk and begs the question if these regulations are no longer justified, according to EPA, it's hard to continue them as compliance obligations on coal-fired power plants across the country," he states.

Aldy adds that even power plant operators who have invested in equipment to reduce mercury emissions are opposed to weakening the mercury rule.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY