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Piles of coal sit in front of Pacificorp's 1440 megawatt coal fired power plant. Photo: George Frey/Getty Images

The Environmental Protection Agency is about to set in motion a review of one of the most significant — and expensive — air-pollution regulations the agency has ever issued.

The big picture: The rule, which sets first-ever federal limits on mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants, was issued in 2012 and virtually all operating coal plants are complying with it now.

The bottom line: Given that compliance, whatever EPA does probably won’t make a difference in President Trump’s goal to revive coal. But the agency's move could make it easier for currently-operating coal plants to comply with it and also the way future regulations are written.

Driving the news: The agency is going to soon send for review a draft proposal to the White House questioning the finding that the EPA needed to set the standards at all, according to Bloomberg Environment, which first reported the news Wednesday. An EPA spokeswoman also told Axios the agency plans to address questions raised by a Supreme Court ruling in 2015 finding that Obama’s EPA didn’t consider costs appropriately when writing the rule.

Flashback: This rule has a long and litigious history going back decades, but let’s focus on just what occurred under President Obama.

  • When Obama’s EPA issued the rule, it found it would cost power companies an annual $9.6 billion, making it one of the EPA’s most expensive regulations ever.
  • The agency said the public-health benefits of between $37 billion and $90 billion per year outweighed those costs.
  • The EPA arrived at those large benefit numbers by including indirect pollution co-benefits other than direct reduction in mercury pollution, a move Trump’s EPA is likely to review.

What’s next: The EPA will issue a draft proposal within the next few months, which will go through a public comment period before it becomes final after that.

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.