- The Environmental Protection Agency has not properly complied with a federal code that requires the agency to account for job impacts in the coal industry and other sectors as it crafts air pollution regulations, a federal judge ruled Monday.
- Judge John Preston Bailey of the District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia agreed with coal mining company Murray Energy's argument that the EPA must more thoroughly track job losses as a result of its regulations. EPA had argued that authority was "discretionary" and that existing efforts were sufficient.
- Coal and fossil fuel groups welcomed the ruling, but the Hill notes it may be largely symbolic, as any analysis of job impacts may not yield policy changes at the EPA. The court gave the agency 14 days to file a plan to track employment effects in the coal sector.
EPA had argued that its current job-tracking efforts were sufficient, and that its responsibility to do so is "discretionary" anyway.
That did not sit well with Judge Bailey, an appointee of President George W. Bush. He used his ruling to rebuke the EPA's argument, saying that in Section 321(a) of the Clean Air Act, "Congress intended to impose a mandatory duty upon the EPA" to track job impacts.
Though EPA already conducts what it says is a "proactive analysis" of employment effects, Bailey wrote these efforts must be continual, not only at the beginning of the rulemaking process. In his decision, Judge Bailey wrote that job losses in the coal and power generating industry can be traced directly back to EPA actions, necessitating the review.
“In this case, the plaintiffs have alleged that the actions of the EPA have had a coercive effect on the power generating industry, essentially forcing them to discontinue the use of coal," Bailey wrote. "This Court finds these allegations sufficient to show that the injuries claimed by the plaintiffs are fairly traceable to the earlier actions of the EPA."
Whether the enhanced job impact review will beget actual policy change remains to be seen. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that EPA did not properly assess compliance costs in crafting a separate power sector regulation, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). But the EPA was then allowed to enforce the rule while simply changing the cost-benefit analysis underlying it, and the justices blocked a second attempt to block the MATS program earlier this year.
More dramatic changes to EPA carbon regulations are possible from separate lawsuits. Both the agency's new source pollution standards and the Clean Power Plan — which regulates existing plants — are facing challenges at the D.C. Circuit Court from a coalition of conservative-leaning states and fossil fuel interests.