Michael Regan, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), speaks during an event at the EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.

Samuel Corum | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday said it will strengthen limits on several toxic air pollutants emitted by power plants, including mercury, a neurotoxin that impairs the brain development of children and can cause cardiovascular disease in adults.

The proposal comes after the Biden administration earlier this year restored the Obama-era regulation that controls mercury, allowing the EPA to move forward to enforce stricter controls on emissions. The agency’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards rule would be the most stringent update on regulations on mercury emissions since the Obama administration’s standards in 2012.

The proposal is the latest action by the Biden administration to address environmental justice and air pollution while curbing climate-warming emissions. The EPA also recently unveiled tougher limits on deadly soot pollution and is expected to propose updated greenhouse gas rules for power plants in the coming weeks.

The new limits would reduce emissions of mercury and fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide across the U.S., while accelerating the country’s transition away from coal-burning plants, senior EPA officials said Wednesday.

The Trump administration had stopped enforcing limits on mercury, arguing that the cost of the regulation to industry exceeded the public health benefits, which include limiting disease and premature deaths.

“By leveraging proven, emissions-reduction measures available at reasonable costs and encouraging new, advanced control technologies, we can reduce hazardous pollution from coal-fired power plants, protecting our planet and improving public health for all,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said.

The new rule would aim to reduce remaining mercury emissions by 70% while curbing other non-mercury metal pollution such as nickel, arsenic and lead. Officials said that limits on mercury would not be costly for power plant operators due to new advanced control technologies that can monitor and control emissions.

Officials estimate the public health benefits of the proposal would total between $2.4 billion and $3 billion from 2028 to 2037. The agency also estimates the cost to the industry of complying with the rule would be between $230 million and $330 million.

“These proposed new standards would be a much-needed upgrade, but the agency should strengthen these standards even further to protect public health and capture the abilities of modern air pollution controls,” said John Walke, director of the clean air project at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The proposal also comes after the White House on Monday announced it’s making $450 million available for an array of new clean energy demonstration projects on former mine lands.

The agency is accepting public comment on the rule for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

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