Three former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials criticized the Trump administration for its plan to lower environmental standards, specifically regarding the release of mercury.
The officials said during a conference call Tuesday decreasing regulations on mercury, a neurotoxin that can damage the brains of infants and young children, would benefit the oil- and coal-burning industries. Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler worked as a former energy lobbyist and one of his clients, Robert E. Murray, is chief executive of one of the nation’s largest coal companies.
“More mercury in the air means more mercury in the water means more mercury in the fish, which means more mercury in the people who eat the fish,” said Janet McCabe, former acting assistant administrator of the Office of Air and Radiation under the Obama administration. “It is especially problematic for young children, pregnant women and the babies they are carrying.”
McCabe, former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Joe Goffman, a former senior counsel in the air and radiation office with McCabe, offered some legal, scientific and policy history on how the Trump administration seeks to dismantle the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards (MATS).
In addition, the EPA could release a proposal on MATS this week to the federal Office of Management and Budget, which the former federal officials say could allow the Trump administration to change other areas of the law under the Clean Air Act of 1990.
McCabe said her research on environmental proposals from the Trump administration showed “virtually no discussion” to assess environmental justice impact, an EPA requirement.
“Anytime you see a weakening of the standards that is unjustified … that was done according to the law and science with great input from the public, you can bet that those most at risk are the exact communities that are most vulnerable today and that is communities of color,” said McCarthy, now the director of Harvard University’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE).
Locally, environmental activists in Prince George’s County fought to stop a power plant from opening in Brandywine and a concrete batching plant in Bladensburg, arguing that the proposed businesses would affect the majority of Black residents in the areas.
In Bladensburg, the batching plant reviewed this year didn’t need to submit data on air quality because the EPA designated it as a “minor source” based on size of the business, calculation of pollutants and/or hazardous pollutants and emissions released.
On the federal level, Trump has opposed several regulations approved by the Obama administration. He’s disparaged climate change, which the federal government released a lengthy report on last month.
The 1,500-page document assessed how glaciers continue to shrink, sea ice is retreating and marine species are traveling to new locations toward cooler waters.
In addition, some sections of the county could lose hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of the century due to climate change.
As part of the new EPA administration’s plan, it would not only ease federal regulations on MATS, but also allow companies to save money.
Earlier this month, Wheeler signed a proposal to undo a 2015 rule that would allow companies to build new coal power plants without certain innovative techniques to capture carbon dioxide from smokestacks.
Another part of the administration’s proposal would be to eliminate the calculation of positive health effects, also known as “co-benefits.”
For instance, the Obama administration estimated it could cost less than $10 million per year to reduce pollutants under the MAST rule. Overall, it could cost utility companies about $9.6 billion to comply with the new standards.
However, McCarthy said the reduction of mercury and other pollutants would save billions of dollars in health care costs.
The former EPA officials said that under the Trump proposals, companies may save money on equipment to handle emission and pollutions controls, but there would be an increase of mercury, arsenic and other pollutants released in the air.
Goffman, who wrote amendments in the Clean Air Act that focused on acid rain, said previous congressional officials didn’t assess cost benefits as “the decision-maker” to set standards.
“If the proposal we see later this week relies on a straight-benefit cost analysis, … that proposal will be doing something Congress consistently rejected,” he said.