Trump deregulating highly toxic mercury and arsenic emissions

Most of President Trump's environmental executive orders have been great.  He has started the process of reconsidering the CAFE standards, which makes cars lighter and more deadly in car crashes.  He is in the process of opening up otherwise worthless lands and oceans to valuable oil, gas, and coal exploration.  He is decoupling environmental policy from imaginary global warming considerations.  These actions are all very, very good.

However, three of his executive orders are not so good.  One, which reversed a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping mining waste in local streams, was a rare commonsense rule to come out of the Obama administration.  Mining waste can contain heavy metals such as mercury, an extremely toxic substance.  If mercury enters streams, it can travel long distances.  How would you like to own a farm or a ranch or a house downstream from a mining operation that dumps wastes in a stream?

A second rule Trump is rolling back is one that limits power plants' abilities to dump arsenic and mercury into public waterways.

Beginning in 2018, power plants would have had to begin showing that they were using the most up-to-date technology to remove heavy metals – including lead, arsenic, mercury and other pollutants – from their wastewater. 

We're not talking about carbon dioxide here.  We're not talking about imaginary global warming.  We're talking about real threats posed by mercury and arsenic.  This isn't a rule that should be rolled back.

Trump is also reviewing a rule that places limits on the amount of airborne mercury power plants can release.

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency launched a major effort to reduce mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal-fired power plants – standards that could avert up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 childhood asthma attacks each year.

The driving source of mercury contamination comes from the billowing emissions of coal-burning power plants that provide electricity for much of the U.S. east of the Rocky Mountains. But burning coal also releases mercury into the food chain.

Airborne mercury settles on lakes, streams and oceans where it builds up in seafood and shellfish. Seafood is the top source of mercury exposure for humans, including for infants whose mothers regularly ate foods with high mercury levels, such as tuna, during pregnancy. Prenatal exposure to too much mercury can seriously harm children’s brain development and behavior.

Do you know why there are government warnings against pregnant women eating tuna fish?  Because of all the mercury the tuna have absorbed from these power plants.  This is not the kind of rule that should be overturned.

Democrats parody Republicans as being the party of pollution.  They do so because of Republican opposition to imaginary global warming, or to putting the lives of a snail or a frog above human beings.  These aren't the kind of regulations I'm talking about.  I'm talking about ones that save real human lives from scientifically proven toxic chemicals.  Just because these rules originated from Obama doesn't mean they shouldn't be evaluated rationally.

Trump is pursuing a corporatist agenda that sometimes dovetails with consumer interests, in the case of opening up public lands for development and getting rid of nonsensical global warming rules.  But in these particular cases, repealing these particular Obama-era rules will do more harm than good.  We should keep the 0.1% of Obama's policies that make sense, and these are three of them.

Ed Straker is the senior writer at

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