EPA reverses Trump-era decision on power plant mercury standards, paving way for stricter limits

Dive Brief:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday reaffirmed the scientific, economic and legal underpinnings of its 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants, a step needed for any tightening of the standards.
  •  The agency left the existing standards unchanged, but said it is continuing to consider the MATS “risk and technology review” to determine whether more stringent limits for hazardous air pollution from power plants are feasible and warranted.
  • An updated risk and technology review could be released as soon as next month and a stricter MATS is likely, according to ClearView Energy Partners, a research firm. 

Dive Insight:

The EPA said it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate toxic air emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act, reversing a 2020 decision made during the Trump administration.

The framework the EPA used in 2020 to revoke the MATS legal underpinning was “ill-suited to assessing and comparing the full range of advantages and disadvantages,” the agency said in its final rule. “After applying a more suitable framework, the 2020 determination is revoked.”

The EPA said it now preferred to use a “totality-of the-circumstances” approach that considers a range of relevant factors in assessing potential regulations based on the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision Michigan v. EPA.

In that decision, the court ruled the EPA should consider costs when regulating emissions from power plants.

The risks posed by hazardous emissions from power plants, including to people’s health and the environment, outweighs the costs of reducing them, according to the EPA.

The Edison Electric Institute, a trade group for investor-owned utilities, praised the EPA’s decision.

“With the appropriate and necessary finding restored, electric companies can remain focused on getting the energy we provide as clean as we can as fast as we can, while maintaining the reliability and affordability that our customers value,” EEI President Tom Kuhn said Friday in a statement.

The power sector has spent more than $18 billion to install pollution control technologies to meet the MATS standard and has cut mercury emissions by 91% since 2010, according to Kuhn.

In its analysis, the EPA noted the cost of complying with MATS was likely significantly less than the $9.6 billion annual estimate the agency made in 2011, mainly because fewer pollution controls were installed than expected, and the controls that were used were less expensive than projected.

Environmental group Earthjustice said the EPA should tighten the MATS standards, noting power plants remain the largest source of mercury and other toxic air emissions in the United States.

“EPA can strengthen the rule by reconsidering the previous administration’s ‘do-nothing’ technology and risk review and requiring additional pollution reductions that achieve important public health benefits,” the group said Friday.

The MATS regulation is just one of several pending rulemakings that could affect coal-fired power plants.

“The EPA is also planning to finalize ozone standards and implementation, coal ash standards and effluent limitation guidelines … which could drive further coal plant retirements,” ClearView said in a note Tuesday.

Nearly a year ago, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the agency was taking a coordinated approach across environmental laws to reduce power plant pollution.

via Utility Dive

Categories: Energy