Trump's EPA to finalize rule making it harder to issue new curbs on air pollution - source

FILE PHOTO: A truck engine is tested for pollution exiting its exhaust pipe as California Air Resources field representatives (unseen) work a checkpoint set up to inspect heavy-duty trucks traveling near the Mexican-U.S. border in Otay Mesa, California September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will finalize on Wednesday its overhaul of how it measures the costs and benefits of proposed new curbs on pollution, a move that is likely to sap the agency’s power to impose tough future regulations, according to a source familiar with the process.

The move is among a raft of measures the Trump administration is seeking to finalize before President-elect Joe Biden is inaugurated next month, to shield industry from what it considers historic overreach by environmental regulators under Democratic leadership.

The rule would require the EPA to weigh the economic impact of a proposed rule without factoring secondary public health benefits, which have previously been used to justify expansive regulations, according to the source.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler will announce the final rule on Thursday at an event with the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has been critical of the cost of previous administration’s air regulations, the source said.

The EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

The Obama administration had justified new curbs on smokestack emissions of mercury by factoring in the ancillary benefits to public health that such a move would have, since equipment that reduces mercury tends to also cut emissions other harmful substances.

When Wheeler announced the proposed rule change in June, he said the agency would still calculate the so-called “co-benefits” of proposed regulations but would not use them to justify a new rule. He said doing so was “dishonest accounting.”

Roy Gamse, an economist and former EPA deputy assistant administrator for Planning and Evaluation, told Reuters the rule could make it harder for the EPA to adopt new curbs on industrial pollution. “The only purpose in making this a regulation seems to be to provide a basis for future lawsuits to slow down or prevent future administrations from regulating,” he said.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Marguerita Choy