New Jersey Joins Battle With Trump Administration Over Mercury Emissions

Tom Johnson | July 22, 2020 | Energy & Environment
NJ is one of 19 states challenging EPA over reversal of Obama-era finding that the benefits of removing toxic pollutants from wind-blown emissions outweigh the cost
Credit: Alexander Tsang via Unsplash
Dual smokestacks

New Jersey has joined 18 other states in suing the federal Environmental Protection Agency over weakening a rule designed to limit mercury and other wind-blown pollutants emitted by power plants fueled with oil and coal.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals circuit in the District of Columbia, seeks to overturn the agency’s decision, which found it “not appropriate” or “necessary’’ to regulate the emission of mercury and other toxic compounds from power plants, a reversal of a stance taken by the administration of President Barack Obama.

In adopting the rule in 2012, the Obama administration said the benefits of reducing mercury and other air pollutants would save consumers $90 billion, but President Donald Trump’s team concluded the rules would save only between $4 million and $6 million. The $10 million cost to power producers outweighed the benefits of adding more sophisticated pollution controls, the EPA then concluded.

“It’s absurd that in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, President Trump is putting the interests of the coal lobby and polluters ahead of the health of the American public,’’ said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey in a statement.

Danger to pregnant women, children

Environmentalists, too, derided the switch in policy.

“It is important for New Jersey to stand up to the White House because we have advisories that say pregnant women and children shouldn’t eat trout and other fish from pristine streams in the middle of the Pinelands and Highlands,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “This is because mercury in the sky falls from out-of-state power plants.’’

The Sierra Club and other environmental organizations already have sued the Trump administration for undermining the mercury standards, Tittel noted. Mercury has been found to damage lungs and the brain, and is linked to developmental disorders in children.

The rule change is the latest rollback by the Trump administration, which critics say has sought to weaken more than 100 different environmental laws since the Republican took office.

New Jersey already has some of the nation’s toughest limits on how much mercury can be emitted from power plants and waste-to-energy incinerators. But environmentalists say the Garden State still suffers from wind-blown pollution from states to the west and south.

Some power plants have installed the technology to limit emissions and have been complying with the original Obama rule.

Besides New Jersey and Massachusetts, the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have also joined in the lawsuit. The cities of Baltimore, Chicago and New York also signed on to the petition yesterday.