Supreme Court will hear challenge to EPA mercury rules
- The Supreme Court announced Tuesday it will hear a challenge to EPA regulations aimed at reducing power plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous substances, Reuters reports.
- A coalition of states and energy companies say that the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to consider compliance cost earlier in the regulatory process than it did in crafting the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS). The utilities, including AEP, Duke and Southern Co., and their allies say the rules would cost them too much and require the shuttering of many coal-fired power plants.
- The Obama administration argues the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to take cost into account when deciding the level of regulation, not the decision of whether or not to regulate. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld that interpretation in a 2-1 decision in April.
The Supreme Court's order says the justices will focus on a single question in their review of MATS: Whether or not the EPA "unreasonably refused to consider costs in determining whether it is appropriate to regulate hazardous air pollutants emitted by electric utilities," according to Reuters.
If left unchanged, the regulations could force utilities to shut down many coal-fired power plants due to compliance costs. Bloomberg reports the MATS rules would apply to 1,400 generators at more than 600 of the nation's largest power plants.
The EPA estimates the regulations could prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths each year by limiting mercury, particulate matter, and other harmful pollutants it says are hazardous to public health.
The decision from the High Court to review the rule is a new setback for environmentalists following a string of victories, Bloomberg reports. In June, the Court upheld the EPA's authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, and in April ruled the agency may regulate cross-state pollution that causes smog and acid rain.
The EPA has set up a regulatory mechanism to ensure the MATS rules do not affect reliability, allowing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to recommend individual plants be granted compliance extensions so they can continue feeding power into the grid. Last week, FERC made its first recommendation under the new procedure, saying a Kansas City coal plant should be allowed a six month extension to comply with MATS rules.
A decision on the case is expected in June. The cases are titled Michigan v. EPA, 14-46; Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, 14-47; and National Mining Association v. EPA, 14-49.
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