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The emissions from the Gavin Power Plant in Cheshire, Ohio. Photo: Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

The Trump administration is expected on Thursday to withdraw the legal justification for an Obama-era regulation that forced coal-fired power plants to cut mercury and other toxic air pollution, the New York Times reports.

Why it matters: It's another step by the administration to relax health-related regulations even during the coronavirus pandemic. The administration curtailed vehicle emissions standards despite studies linking pollution to higher COVID-19 death rates.

How it works: The EPA under former President Obama justified the rule by arguing the public-health benefits vastly outweighed compliance costs when including co-benefits of reducing other harmful types of pollution, like sulfur dioxide, alongside mercury.

  • In its proposal of this rule change in 2018, the Trump EPA excluded the consideration of those co-benefits, thereby concluding the compliance costs outweighed the public health benefits.

By the numbers:

  • With the co-benefits, Obama's EPA said the rule would create $80 billion in public-health benefits over five years, compared to the $9.6 billion in annual compliance costs.
  • Without the co-benefits, the public health benefits of reducing mercury pollution are just $6 million annually.

The intrigue: "By reducing the health benefit of regulations on paper, while raising their economic costs, the new method could be used to justify loosening restrictions on any pollutant that the fossil fuel industry has deemed too costly to control," per the Times.

Yes, but: Today's move won't remove the rule outright and you can expect legal challenges regardless. Also, its impact on the ground with actual coal plants will be minimal, given virtually all of them have already complied with the original 2012 rule.

What we're watching via Axios' Amy Harder: Whether the Trump administration seeks to use this change of excluding co-benefits on other existing regulations. If it does, it could be one of the most significant environmental changes of the Trump era.

Go deeper

Scoop: Border officials project 13,000 child migrants in May

The "El Chaparral" border crossing at Tijuana. Photo: Stringer/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

A Customs and Border Protection staffer told top administration officials Thursday the agency is projecting a peak of 13,000 unaccompanied children crossing the border in May, sources directly familiar with the discussion told Axios.

Why it matters: That projection would exceed the height of the 2019 crisis, which led to the infamous "kids-in-cages" disaster. It also underscores a rapidly escalating crisis for the Biden administration.

1 hour ago - World

U.S. strikes Iran-backed militia facilities in Syria

President Biden at the Pentagon on Feb. 10. Photo: Alex Brandon - Pool/Getty Images

The United States on Thursday carried out an airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to an Iran-backed militia group, the Pentagon announced.

The state of play: The strike, approved by President Biden, comes "in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel," Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

Senate parliamentarian rules $15 minimum wage cannot be included in relief package

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

The Senate parliamentarian ruled Thursday that the provision to increase the minimum wage to $15/hour cannot be included in the broader $1.9 trillion COVID relief package.

Why it matters: It's now very likely that any increase in the minimum wage will need bipartisan support, as the provision cannot be passed with the simple Senate majority that Democrats are aiming to use for President Biden's rescue bill.