Supreme Court Leaves EPA’s Mercury Rule Intact

Friday, March 04, 2016
Chief Justice John Roberts

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)


Richard Kooi 7 months ago
February smashed monthly global temperature records, according to the satellite data analyzed by the University of Alabama at Huntsville (UAH). At the same time, a brand new study concludes that miscalculations explain why the Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) satellite temperature dataset had appeared to show a relatively slow rate of global warming. So Ted Cruz and his fellow climate science deniers need a new meme to replace their “satellites find no warming since 1998” talking point, which replaced the “there’s been no warming since 1998” talking point after that one fell apart when 2014 became the hottest year on record — and again when 2015 blew away the 2014 record. In fact, for those who live in reality, as opposed to in denial, satellite data, ground-based weather stations, sea-based buoys, and even weather balloons all reveal a steady long-term warming trend. Let’s start with the UAH data, which show a stunning 1.5°F (0.83°C) warming in February 2016 compared to the historical (1981-2010) average for the lower troposphere (the lowest part of the atmosphere): temp anomaly The lower tropospheric temperature (LT) anomaly, via UAH scientist Roy Spencer. How amazing is this temperature jump? First off, remember that the 1981-2010 baseline used by the UAH is itself some 0.8°F (0.45°C) hotter than pre-industrial levels — so you can add that to all of the numbers here. Second, February was more than half a degree Fahrenheit — 0.52°F (0.29°C) — warmer than January, which itself was “the warmest January in satellite record.” Third, it was so hot last month that Dr. Roy Spencer of the UAH reports, “Incredibly, land areas outside the tropics in the Northern Hemisphere were a ‘whopping’ 1.46 degrees C above average, 0.5 degrees above any previous monthly anomaly.” This is a 2.6°F warming above the 1981-2010 average — topping the previous anomaly by 0.9°F. Lower atmospheric warming over land outside of the tropics (vs. the 1981-2020 average) via UAH scientist Roy Spencer. Lower atmospheric warming over land outside of the tropics (vs. the 1981-2020 average) via UAH scientist Roy Spencer. Fourth, it was so hot last month that Spencer — one of country’s leading climate science deniers — told the Washington Post: I’ve always cautioned fellow skeptics that it’s dangerous to claim no warming. There has been warming. The question is how much warming there’s been and how does that compare to what’s expected and what’s predicted. Now we know there has been a lot of warming, it’s consistent with what scientists predicted, and, most worrisome of all, scientists now predict it will keep speeding up! Maybe we should start listening to them. I’m sure you’ve heard from Ted Cruz and other climate science deniers that there hasn’t been any warming in the satellite record since 1998. What they really meant was there was not as much warming as expected in the lower troposphere in the (questionable) RSS data. The UAH’s Spencer and Dr. John Christy — both leading deniers — reported just last month that the UAH data shows a “Global climate trend since Nov. 16, 1978 [of] +0.12 C [0.22F] per decade.” In fact out of all the temperature datasets — land, sea, weather balloons, and two from satellites (UAH and RSS) — only one dataset had shown unexpectedly slow warming in recent years, the RSS data. Unsurprisingly, that is the dataset deniers like Ted Cruz have glommed on to — despite the fact that it was widely believed the RSS data was being misanlayzed. Indeed, back in 2011, Spencer himself explained the discrepancy between the UAH data and the RSS data on his website: “my UAH cohort and boss John Christy, who does the detailed matching between satellites, is pretty convinced that the RSS data is undergoing spurious cooling because RSS is still using the old NOAA-15 satellite which has a decaying orbit, to which they are then applying a diurnal cycle drift correction based upon a climate model, which does not quite match reality.” The drift correction is needed because different parts of the planet are observed by satellites at different times during the day — and because satellites drift from orbit to orbit. Spencer adds that the UAH data is probably better because “We have not used NOAA-15 for trend information in years…we use the NASA Aqua AMSU [advanced microwave sounding unit], since that satellite carries extra fuel to maintain a precise orbit.” Since Spencer is a leading climate science denier, however, he did not urge his fellow deniers to avoid using the likely flawed RSS data. Quite the reverse: But, until the discrepancy is resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, those of you who REALLY REALLY need the global temperature record to show as little warming as possible might want to consider jumping ship, and switch from the UAH to RSS dataset. Seriously! Spencer is such a gung-ho denier of climate science he is telling his fellow deniers who want to minimize the reality of global warming

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