Enviros urge White House to abandon mercury rule overhaul

Source: Sean Reilly, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, November 6, 2018

EPA’s proposal to revisit its 2012 regulations on power plant mercury emissions has yet to be made public, but it’s already drawn the attention of outside groups who have attended White House meetings about the plan.

Newly posted meeting summaries on a White House budget office website show that representatives from industry, environmental and regulatory groups have met with administration officials in recent weeks about EPA’s forthcoming proposal.

On Oct. 16, for example, John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council met with staffers from EPA and the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) about the mercury policies, the website shows. On Oct. 23, attorneys for the Utility Air Regulatory Group — joined by employees of Duke Energy Corp. and Southern Co. — met with administration officials, a separate notice shows.

Another White House meeting took place Oct. 30 with representatives of Earthjustice and the NAACP. The same EPA and OIRA staffers were involved the next day in a sit-down with the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, a broad-based group of state and local regulators.

The proposed rule, officially titled “Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for Power Plants Residual Risk and Technology Review and Cost Review,” has been at OIRA since Oct. 5.

Acting EPA chief Andrew Wheeler has said the agency doesn’t plan to reconsider the limits on mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Instead, EPA wants to relook at the cost-benefit analysis that found it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate releases of the toxic metal and other hazardous pollutants, Wheeler has indicated.

Environmental groups, some of which suspect EPA has bigger plans in mind, are deeply opposed to any attempt to revisit the 2012 regulations, including the underlying justification.

“I made clear why that was legally indefensible and harmful to air quality and public health,” Walke, who oversees NRDC air quality programs, said in a phone interview today.

Earthjustice and the NAACP made a similar point later that month, Earthjustice staff attorney Neil Gormley said.

“All of us wanted to express to the White House that they should not go forward with this proposal,” Gormley said, adding that his organization was also representing the Sierra Club at the meeting.

The National Association of Clean Air Agencies has not taken an official position on the proposed rule, Executive Director Miles Keogh said in an email this morning, but instead offered “related technical considerations.”

Among them: that consideration of the merits of revocation should include analysis of the broader air quality implications and that any resulting increases in particulate emissions “could imperil the attainment status of some areas,” Keogh said.

Makram Jaber and Andrew Knudsen, two lawyers with Hunton Andrews Kurth, a firm that has long represented the Utility Air Regulatory Group, could not immediately be reached for comment on the substance of their Oct. 23 meeting.

The EPA proposal is undergoing a standard interagency review at OIRA, a branch of the White House Office of Management and Budget. While those reviews can generally last as long as three months, EPA hopes it will end in time to put the draft rule out for public comment within the next few weeks.

As E&E News has already reported, staffers with the Environmental Defense Fund have also met with EPA and OIRA on the proposal (E&E News PM, Nov. 1).

According to Walke, at least several other industry, environmental and public health organizations have participated in similar meetings. As of early this afternoon, however, those sessions had not yet been posted on the Reginfo.govwebsite.