The Environmental Protection Agency announced on Monday it intends to reaffirm its authority to regulate toxic mercury from power plant smokestacks, undoing a Trump-era rollback.
The EPA is proposing to bring back the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rules that were first implemented during the Obama administration. The rules require power plants to reduce pollutants, including mercury and acid gases, which Biden administration officials say will improve public health.
Mercury is a neurotoxin with several health impacts, including its harmful effect on brain development in children.
“Sound science makes it clear that we need to limit mercury and toxins in the air to protect children and vulnerable communities from dangerous pollution,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement. “EPA is committed to aggressively reducing pollution from the power sector so that all people, regardless of zip code or amount of money in their pocket, can breathe clean air and live healthy and productive lives.”
The Trump administration reversed the rules in May 2020, saying they were not “appropriate and necessary” because they were too burdensome to industry.
The EPA said it is also examining whether to make the rules more stringent.
Monday’s announcement is one of several recent EPA regulations targeting toxins emitted from smokestacks and coal ash ponds. On their face, the air and wastewater rules would not regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but they could have that effect.
The agency faces a significant legal challenge at the US Supreme Court later this month in a case that questions its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
“We don’t have to overly rely on any one rule,” Regan told the Wall Street Journal in a recent interview. “It’s looking at the full suite of authorities to maximize our ability to protect communities and public health.”
The mercury rules sharply reduced mercury emissions while they were in place, according to the EPA. Compared to 2010 levels, mercury emissions from power plants were down by 86% by 2017, five years after the rules were implemented, according to a news release. Acid gas emissions were also down by 96%, and non-mercury metal emissions were down by 81%.
Senate Environment and Public Works Chair Tom Carper applauded the proposed rules change.
“Every American — no matter their zip code — deserves to live in a community that is free of mercury and other harmful air pollution,” Carper said in a statement.
The EPA will take public comment on the proposal for 60 days and plans hold a virtual public hearing on the rules.
This story has been updated with additional information.