Trump EPA raises bar for justifying new clean air regulations

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will announce on Wednesday its final rule changing how it measures the costs and benefits of proposed new curbs on pollution, a move likely to limit the incoming administration’s power to impose stringent regulations.

FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises from a burn off at an oil refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S. August 26, 2017. REUTERS/Adrees Latif/File Photo

Industry groups praised the change, but environmental and public health groups called for President-elect Joe Biden to immediately reverse it when he takes office in January.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler unveiled the final rule at the conservative Heritage Foundation, which has been critical of the criteria previous administrations used to justify tougher regulations.

“Today’s action ensures that EPA is consistent in evaluating costs and benefits when developing broad-reaching policies that affect the American public,” said Wheeler.

He said the rule was part of broader reform of assessments of benefits and costs that underpin regulatory actions under the administration of President Donald Trump, and that there were no regulations that ensured that EPA analyzed benefits and costs consistently.

Public health and environmental groups said the move undermines future regulators’ ability to set stricter limits on air pollution because they will not be able to account for the full range of health benefits of a proposed rule if they mainly factor in its cost to justify it.

“This benign-sounding update will deliberately discount the health benefits of air pollution standards, which would artificially reduce the ‘value’ of air pollution cleanup,” American Lung Association President Harold Wimmer said.

Wimmer and other environmental group leaders called for Biden’s EPA to reverse the rule, which now would require a formal process.

The EPA moved in April to revise the cost-benefit analysis used by former president Barack Obama’s administration to write the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards rule. Trump’s EPA said the costs of compliance far outweighed direct public health benefits.

The calculations used by Obama accounted for indirect benefits too, because pollution-control equipment at coal plants would reduce emissions of particulate matter and other harmful substances that come out of smokestacks, in addition to just mercury.

President of the National Mining Association Rich Nolan said previous analyses were “improperly used to target the coal industry through unjustifiable regulations.”

Reporting by Valerie VolcoviciEditing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio