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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

Ina Fried, author of Login
54 mins ago - Technology

CES was largely irrelevant this year

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Forced online by the pandemic and overshadowed by the attack on the Capitol, the 2021 edition of CES was mostly an afterthought as media's attention focused elsewhere.

Why it matters: The consumer electronics trade show is the cornerstone event for the Consumer Technology Association and Las Vegas has been the traditional early-January gathering place for the tech industry.

The FBI is tracing a digital trail to Capitol rioters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo

Capitol rioters, eager to share proof of their efforts with other extremists online, have so far left a digital footprint of at least 140,000 images that is making it easier for federal law enforcement officials to capture and arrest them.

The big picture: Law enforcement's use of digital tracing isn't new, and has long been at the center of fierce battles over privacy and civil liberties. The Capitol siege is opening a fresh front in that debate.

Off the Rails

Episode 6: Last stand in Georgia

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer, Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 6: Georgia had not backed a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992 and Donald Trump's defeat in this Deep South stronghold, and his reaction to that loss, would help cost Republicans the U.S. Senate as well. Georgia was Trump's last stand.

On Air Force One, President Trump was in a mood. He had been clear he did not want to return to Georgia, and yet somehow he'd been conscripted into another rally on the night of Jan. 4.