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One might think that an agency with the words “Environmental Protection” right there in the name would be against poisonous air, but then one would be wrong.

On December 28, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed changes to the ways the government measures the advantages of restricting mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants, meaning benefits will now be measured in terms of money rather than how many people are or are not poisoned, according to The New York Times:

In the proposal, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a finding declaring that federal rules imposed on mercury by the Obama administration are too costly to justify.

It drastically changed the formula the government uses in its required cost-benefit analysis of the regulation by taking into account only certain effects that can be measured in dollars, while ignoring or playing down other health benefits.

In 2011, the Obama administration issued new rules around the potentially dangerous emissions from coal plants, estimating that reducing emissions would prevent 11,000 “premature deaths” by cutting down occurrences of heart and lung disease. At the time, the administration said that health benefits would total around $80 billion a year.

Now, the E.P.A. has said that the costs of reducing mercury far outweigh the potential benefits, claiming the costs of putting pollution control systems in place are somewhere between $7.4 billion to $9.6 billion, while the health benefits come to just $4 million to $6 million.

The proposal leaves restrictions as they are, but changing the way the government calculates the financial burden versus the potential benefit will allow coal mining companies, most of which have already spent billions to become compliant, to challenge them.

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Apparently, this all came to pass because some coal titan simply asked his bestie Andrew Wheeler (administrator of the E.P.A. and former coal lobbyist) if he could please start poisoning people again: 

Reworking the mercury rule, which the E.P.A. considers the priciest clean-air regulation ever put forth in terms of annual cost to industry, would represent a victory for the coal industry and in particular for Robert E. Murray, an important former client of Mr. Wheeler’s from his days as a lobbyist. Mr. Murray, the chief executive of Murray Energy Corporation, personally requested the rollback of the mercury rule soon after Mr. Trump took office.

Many of the coal companies that have already paid billions to become complaint with the 2011 rules are asking that they be left in place. But the proposal also sets a precedent for challenging other regulations, so who knows what industries will be allowed to freely spew more toxins next.

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The rules stipulated that power plants bring mercury and other toxic emissions down 90 percent over five years in order to prevent 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, not to mention lessening exposure to a “neurotoxin that can damage the brain and nervous system in young children, leading to lower I.Q. and impaired motor skills.”

However, the current administration says these numbers are inflated because these benefits are difficult to evaluate and “has concluded that the identification of these benefits is not sufficient, in light of the gross imbalance of monetized costs.”

Wheeler signed the proposal on December 27 and the public has 90 days to comment before the final rule.