Loading...
BYH Zoning Commission. Take your chairs and sit in the field by Bostic Sugg in morning or afternoon and tell the...

Trump's EPA plans to tie its own hands

ENERGY-POLICY

Emissions rise from the Duke Energy Corp. coal-fired Asheville Power Plant in Arden on Sept. 13.

Loading…

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Mercury is a noxious byproduct of burning coal. It contaminates fish and, in turn, people, leading to brain damage in infants and small children, as well as serious cardiovascular and central nervous system problems in adults. Restrictions on U.S. power plants have substantially reduced their emissions of mercury since 2015.

Apparently, the Trump administration has a problem with that.

Specifically, it objects to the way the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama justified the new rules. The EPA now proposes to change the accounting in a way that would have precluded the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards altogether, and could make it all but impossible to strengthen limits on mercury and other toxic pollutants when those standards come up for review in 2020.

The mercury rule itself isn't about to be rolled back, because power companies asked the administration not to do that. The industry has already complied — installing scrubbers and filters at some plants, closing others — and it wants to keep charging the cost to ratepayers. But if the method favored by the EPA is adopted, there is a danger it could be used for emissions rules of all kinds, giving polluters a way to weaken regulation at the expense of public health and climate protection.

Critics complain that the mercury rule's cost-benefit analysis included benefits not directly attributable to lower emissions of mercury. It factored in as well the so-called "co-benefits" of reducing fine particulate matter and other pollutants. Those additional benefits to health and longevity were assessed at upward of $33 billion a year — vastly greater than the benefits attributed to reducing mercury alone.

Granted, it's much easier to assess the costs of bronchitis, heart attacks and other maladies caused by inhaling fine particles than to measure and put a price on the brain damage that mercury poisoning causes over the course of many years. (The EPA's estimate of the costs directly attributable to mercury is based on lost earnings and added education expenses for children born to mothers who eat freshwater fish caught by recreational anglers.) Yet costs that can't be easily measured should not simply be ignored — as the EPA, in effect, intends.

Moreover, the critics' idea that co-benefits should not, as a matter of principle, be included in cost-benefit analysis is nonsensical. The costs and benefits of any regulation should encompass the widest possible range of effects. This has been standard practice since the Nixon administration, and rightly so.

It's sometimes argued that the mercury rule's effect on particulates is irrelevant, or a kind of double counting of benefits, because other EPA regulations already deal with particulate matter. This is also wrong. The mercury-rule calculations included only the benefits due to that particular rule — beyond what other regulations accomplish.

This absurd new approach to cost-benefit analysis — ignore costs that are hard to measure and exclude co-benefits — would make it difficult to control hundreds of other pollutants. Benzene and arsenic, for instance, are known carcinogens, but it isn't easy to estimate how many children might develop cancer from increased exposure. And ignoring the enormous co-benefits of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases would block essential steps to protect the climate. (The Obama administration's Clean Power Plan was justified in part by counting the co-benefit of reducing fine-particle pollution.)

Trump's proposal could be reversed by a future administration. In the meantime, though, if the policy goes ahead, it ought to land the EPA in court. Judges have often instructed federal agencies to consider all indirect costs. For the moment, litigation might be the best way to keep effective environmental regulation in place.

Bloomberg View editorial board

Loading…

Humans of Greenville

@HumansofGville

Local photographer Joe Pellegrino explores Greenville to create a photographic census of its people.

Editorials

February 16, 2019

Florida has been forever changed by the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. In the 12 months since 17 people were killed by a troubled former student firing a semi-automatic assault rifle, there have been modest new gun controls, enhanced security at schools and an…

School Shooting Florida-1

February 15, 2019

When it seemed Mitt Romney might win the popular vote in 2012 but lose the Electoral College, Donald Trump called the system “a disaster for a democracy.”

He was right about that. The election four years later confirmed it.

He is the fifth president to have won only on account of an…

Electoral College-3

February 11, 2019

While North Carolina has become more accommodating to those outside the two-party paradigm, with the recent recognition of the Green and Constitution parties, third-party and unaffiliated voters are still getting the shaft.

The Carolina Journal reports that county boards of elections in the Tar…

Voting Records North Carolina

February 08, 2019

Having been forced to delay his State of the Union address by a government shutdown that he precipitated, President Trump seemed as though he might never yield the podium once he got his chance Tuesday night. In a speech that reflected endurance if not eloquence, Trump offered a thin sheen of…

State of Union-2

February 06, 2019

The number of pedestrians killed in the United States over the past decade or so — 49,340 between 2008 and 2017 — is about seven times higher than the number of Americans killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined.

Those are among the many sobering statistics from a recent report…

Pedestrian Deaths Things to Know-1

February 04, 2019

If the war in Afghanistan has been anything, it has been a disappointment.

After 17 years of fighting that has seen thousands of deaths and nearly a trillion dollars in expenses, Americans are sick and tired of the interminable conflict.

Fortunately, serious and substantive negotiations are finally…

US Afghanistan

February 03, 2019

Those upset with how the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors is running the 17-campus system have been circulating a year-old magazine profile of Chairman Harry Smith. The profile, written by Jim Pomeranz and published last January in Business North Carolina, was headlined…

1S7A6270-9

February 01, 2019

With frigid Arctic weather descending on tens of millions of Americans, states have declared emergencies, mail carriers are staying inside, and there’s a risk of frostbite for exposed skin in Chicago in as little as five minutes.

Little wonder that global warming is the last thing on…

Winter Weather Pennsylvania-16

January 30, 2019

As North Carolina lawmakers convene the General Assembly’s 2019 long session today, student journalists, educators and press freedom advocates are calling on state legislatures throughout the country to end censorship of high school student media.

Student Press Freedom Day is dedicated to…

January 29, 2019

President Trump remains bullish that the North Korea nuclear threat can be contained. Speaking to reporters on Jan. 19, the president praised the “incredible meeting” he had the day before with a top representative of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, trumpeting the…

US NKorea-1
81 stories in Editorials. Viewing 1 through 10.
«First Page   «Previous Page        
Page 1 of 9
        Next Page»   Last Page»