Dec. 29 (UPI) -- The Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to change the way the government calculates benefits of restricting mercury emissions from coal plants.
The EPA proposal would change the calculation the federal government uses in its cost-benefit analysis of the Obama-era regulation on mercury emissions from coal plants to dollars while ignoring or minimizing health benefits.
Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage children's brains and impair intellectual and motor skills.
The agency proposed "to determine that it is not 'appropriate and necessary' to regulate HAP (hazardous air pollutant) emissions from power plants under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act."
It said cost of the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards Act ranged from $7.4 to $9.6 billion a year with benefits from regulating hazardous air pollutant emissions ranging from $4 to $6 million a year.
President Barack Obama in contrast cited $80 billion in health benefits annually, including preventing 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks.
The proposal doesn't repeal the rule enacted under Obama that restricted some of the most hazardous pollutants coal plants emit.
However, by changing the way the agency determines the benefits of limiting pollutants, the administration has paved a way for lawsuits by those for and against the change, which environmental activists fear could soften regulations in the future.
Environmental advocacy groups criticized the move, while the National Mining Association praised it.
"The Trump EPA's proposal to weaken mercury and air toxics pollution reduction standards threatens children's health and the Great Lakes," Executive Director Howard Learner of the Environmental Law and Policy Center said in a statement. "The U.S. EPA should not reverse course and loosen the way co-benefits are analyzed in the future that could lead to softening future standards."
Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, praised the new rule, calling the MATS "prior government overreach" and "perhaps the largest regulatory accounting fraud perpetrated on American consumers."
The proposal, which acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler signed Thursday, will be published in the Federal Register in coming weeks. It will go through a 60-day comment period and public hearing before a final rule is issued.