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Mercury pollution rules reinstated under President Biden

Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin which can negatively impact brain development in fetuses and children. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) has attempted to limit mercury emissions from coal plants since 2012. During the Trump administration, however, the EPA determined that the industry costs of these rules outweighed their benefits. As a result, the agency stopped enforcing restrictions on mercury emissions. 

On Monday, January 31, 2022, the Biden administration said that it will resume enforcement of the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for regulating mercury emissions. The action is part of a of Biden-era plan to reduce water and air pollution.

“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,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “E.P.A. 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.”

According to the EPA, the mercury rules first implemented during the Obama administration sharply reduced mercury emissions while they were in place. Compared to 2010 levels, mercury emissions from power plants were 86 percent lower by 2017, before the rules were deemed to be neither appropriate nor necessary in May of 2020. 

The reinforcement of mercury restrictions is part of a broader series of environmental regulations planned or already taken by the Biden administration in order to reduce pollution. These measures include placing limits on tailpipe emissions, converting the American automobile industry from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles, restricting methane emissions, and limiting the spillover of pollutants in wetlands and waterways.

Limiting mercury emissions will also have important co-benefits, such as reducing other dangerous pollutants like sulfur dioxide and fine particulate soot, which are linked to increased risks of brain, heart, lung and respiratory diseases. Over five years, the benefits of curbing these emissions will likely save $80 billion and prevent 130,000 asthma attacks, 4,700 heart attacks, and 11,000 premature deaths annually.

The EPA will allow public comments on the mercury reduction proposal over the next 60 days and will hold a virtual public hearing to debate the new regulations.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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