The Environmental Protection Agency proposed softening its limits on mercury emissions for new coal-fired plants, but industry officials say the proposal still will not ensure that coal is an alternative to natural gas.
Even John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, admitted that the changes are a "modest weakening" of the rules.
Apparently the EPA, in pushing its Maximum Achievement Control Technology on electric companies, wants to appear to be willing to listen to industry - and the customers who must pay for the administration's rules.
The agency will allow slightly higher levels of mercury.
"I'm not sure it's sufficient to fix the problem, even for new sources," said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, an industry group.
The problem is that EPA has too much power and EPA officials do not consider the cost-effectiveness of its regulations. Indeed it wants the maximum control, not the best.
Americans are free to disagree.
In a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in September 2011, Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, a medical doctor, and six other physicians said the EPA was "double counting" the health benefits of the new regulations while ignoring the effect of an up to 20 percent boost in energy costs on hospitals and other health providers.
"Over the past 11 years, the utility industry has actually increased power generation by 40 percent while emissions have decreased by 70 percent," Burgess wrote.
"With respect to mercury, the EPA has acknowledged that actual benefits may be as little as $500,000 in comparison to a $10 billion price tag, per the rule."
Only this administration would consider making the public spend $10 billion to save $500,000.
As for saving the world, Burgess noted, "the 407 coal-fired power plants in the U.S. contribute less than 1 percent of the atmospheric mercury emissions worldwide."
The Obama administration should back reasonable rules for coal-fired power, lest it appear reckless and irresponsible.