Notes from the Kakistocracy: Mercury rules on the chopping block


Andrew Wheeler is about to score a big one for his coal buddies:

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.

In a statement on Friday, Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association, praised the new rule, calling the mercury limits “perhaps the largest regulatory accounting fraud perpetrated on American consumers.”

Mercury is a pretty nasty neurotoxin in its elemental (particulate) form, and it's persistent; you just can't burn coal hot enough to get rid of it. But that danger pales in comparison to what happens when elemental mercury drains into or settles upon a body of water. It bonds with microorganisms and becomes motile; it comes to life in the form of methyl mercury. And when consumed by any larger organism (from fish to people), it can no longer be filtered out, so it bio-accumulates. And it becomes selective in its eating patterns, much preferring the soft neural tissues of a developing fetus. Placental barriers mean next to nothing to this creature, and that's why it's incredibly important that man-made barriers be kept in place:

Mercury exists in three forms: elemental mercury, inorganic mercury compounds (primarily mercuric chloride), and organic mercury compounds (primarily methyl mercury). All forms of mercury are quite
toxic, and each form exhibits different health effects.

Acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of elemental mercury in humans results in central nervous system (CNS) effects such as tremors, mood changes, and slowed sensory and motor nerve function. Chronic (long-term) exposure to elemental mercury in humans also affects the CNS, with effects such as erethism (increased excitability), irritability, excessive shyness, and tremors. Human studies are inconclusive regarding elemental mercury and cancer.

A large number of human studies on the systemic effects of methyl mercury have been carried out. This is the result of two large scale poisoning incidents in Japan and Iraq and several epidemiologic studies
investigating populations that consume large quantities of fish. (1,2) Oral exposure to methyl mercury has been observed to produce significant developmental effects in humans. Infants born to women who ingested high concentrations of methyl mercury exhibited CNS effects, such as mental retardation, ataxia, deafness, constriction of the visual field, blindness, and cerebral palsy. At lower methyl mercury concentrations, developmental delays and abnormal reflexes were noted. (1,2,8)

That data came from the EPA itself, which just demonstrates even stronger how out-of-touch the current Administrator is. Back to the OP:

The Obama administration itself had broadly accepted that it is difficult to put a specific dollar-figure on some health benefits, for instance, avoiding lost I.Q. points in infants or other fetal harm that has been linked to pregnant women eating mercury-contaminated fish. For that reason, the original rule argued against using a strict cost-benefit analysis to decide whether the regulation should be imposed, said Joseph Goffman, the executive director of Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program.

The new proposal fundamentally changes that approach. It recognizes that difficult-to-quantify benefits exist, but said the administrator “has concluded that the identification of these benefits is not sufficient, in light of the gross imbalance of monetized costs.”

Ann Weeks, senior counsel for the Clean Air Task Force, an environmental group, criticized the rule as “bean counting,” and said, “This is not tax law. This is public health benefits. It’s a very different calculus.”

Both the NIH and the CDC need to be raising holy hell over this proposed rule change, because it flies in the face of health-related science. And it would be a great idea if our own AG (Josh Stein) led the pack with a lawsuit challenging it. I have no doubt one will emerge, but the clock is ticking.