Trump Administration Proposes to Revoke Mercury Emission Regulations during COVID-19 Pandemic

By Arun Balaji, Kaushal Kumar, Kunaal Venugopal, and Sudhit Rao

On Thursday, the Trump administration proposed to revoke emission regulations for mercury and other toxic metals which are primarily released from oil and coal-fired power plants, mounting on the administration’s pattern of rolling back health standards during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just Tuesday, the administration refused to tighten soot pollution which had been linked to higher COVID-19 death rates. The administration cites that the Obama rule of cutting down on mercury power plant emissions could not be justified as “appropriate and necessary.”

Although there is Mercury in the Earth’s crust, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cites that “human activities, such as mining and fossil fuel combustion, have led to widespread global mercury pollution.” Mercury becomes especially toxic in water as methylmercury. This is the most toxic form of Mercury, as it easily absorbs into the tissue of marine organisms. The EPA choosing to revoke regulations for mercury worsens the problem. It allows for Mercury poisoning to pose a greater problem, as greater emissions increase the chance of people consuming Mercury in its different forms, and suffering due to this consumption.

In his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump pledged to strengthen the coal industry, which he claims had been weakened by the Obama Administration’s EPA regulations. He was referring to a policy released by Obama’s EPA in 2012 that installed costly charges to restrict mercury emissions that reportedly cost the industry $9.6 billion a year. Ellen Kurlansky, a former policymaker policy maker who worked on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) criticized Trump. She said, “This action, which is a gift to the coal industry at the expense of all Americans, is an attack on public health justified by a phony cost-benefit analysis that purposely inflates the cost of MATS and ignores the value of the human health benefits.”

The Trump administration is again under heavy fire after releasing its second controversial decision in only 3 days regarding environmental health standards during the COVID-19 pandemic. The stone set in place by President Obama regarding mercury emissions regulation is soon to be removed with no feasible replacement in sight. With environmental conditions taking a back seat during the pandemic, the climate crisis is only worsening, and the implications of these regulations on our future are still up in the air.