By Renae Reints
December 28, 2018

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing changes to narrow the way it calculates the health benefits of pollutant limitations, targeting an Obama-era regulation on the mercury expelled by coal power plants.

The EPA is not seeking to remove the mercury limitations, outlined under the 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, but critics are saying the proposed change in calculations sets a dangerous precedent for future regulations associated with public health.

Under the Obama administration, The Washington Post reports, the EPA calculated that limiting mercury would create $6 million in health benefits annually, a number much lower than the $9.6 billion it’s estimated to cost companies to comply to the regulations each year.

However, the administration estimated that these benefits swell to somewhere between $37 billion and $90 billion when you incorporate the effects of reductions in other particles—like soot and nitrogen oxide—that would coincide with mercury limitations, making the regulations monetarily beneficial.

Under the direction of acting administrator Andrew Wheeler, the EPA is now questioning whether it was appropriate to include these additional benefits.

“I just think it’s a little fuzzy math when you say, ‘Reduce mercury and we have all these other benefits over here,’ as the shiny object,” Wheeler told the Post last fall.

Therefore the new EPA analysis states the health benefits of mercury reduction lies between $4 million and $6 million. In a statement announcing the proposed revision—which would eliminate the consideration of these “co-benefits”—the EPA said the cost of complying with the regulation “dwarfs” the monetized benefits in health.

Once the proposal appears in the federal register sometime in the coming weeks, the New York Times reports, the public will have 60 days to comment before any final changes are made.

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