Supreme Court Leaves EPA’s Mercury Rule Intact
By Adam Liptak, New York Times News Service
WASHINGTON — In a significant victory for the Obama administration, Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday refused to block an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation limiting emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants.
Roberts rejected an application from 20 states that said a federal appeals court in Washington had effectively thwarted their victory in the Supreme Court in June, when the high court ruled that the EPA had failed to take into account the punishing costs its mercury regulation would impose. In that 5-4 decision, Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court ruled that the agency had run afoul of the Clean Air Act by deciding to regulate the emissions without first undertaking a cost-benefit analysis to show the regulation to be “appropriate and necessary.”
“It is not rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits,” Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month, wrote in June. “Statutory context supports this reading.”
The decision did not strike down the regulation, but it did require the EPA to take costs into consideration. The question before the Supreme Court now was what should happen in the meantime.
In December, a unanimous three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit allowed the regulation to stay in place while the agency completed its review, noting that the agency “is on track to issue a final finding” by April 15.
In their Supreme Court brief, the states noted that the justices recently blocked a different regulation, and the administration’s effort to combat global warming by regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, before any court had ruled on its legality. They said a stay in the mercury regulation “is even more warranted” since the Supreme Court has already decided that the agency had exceeded its authority.
The mercury regulation, the states said, “has imposed literally billions of dollars of compliance costs on utilities (and by extension on all members of the public who use electricity), and even if a similar rule is lawfully imposed at some time in the future, the quite substantial time-value of that money has already been lost and is irrecoverable.”
The Supreme Court voted 5-4 on the climate change stay, issued Feb. 9. Scalia was in the majority, and his vote in that case was one of the last he cast before he died.
The action by Roberts is an indication that Scalia’s death has altered the balance of power on the Supreme Court.
To Learn More:
EPA Declines to Classify Coal Ash as Hazardous Waste (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)
For First Time, EPA Sets Limits on Dumping of Toxic Metal Pollutants by Steam Power Plants (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
EPA Sued over Refusal to Regulate Coal Ash (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)
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