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Supreme Court Sends Back EPA Rules On Toxic Gas Emissions

Last week’s progressive winning streak at the Supreme Court ended Monday as SCOTUS ruled on regulations about emissions of mercury and other toxic substances from power plants. The regs went into effect about two months ago. The high court sent the EPA rules back to a lower court (D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals) for review. The MATS rules pursuant to the Clean Air Act had been almost 20 years in the making.

Coal-Fired Power Plant at Sunset Turceni (

The high court found that EPA neglected to account for the enormous costs of the rule (reportedly over $9 billion per year for a total of 460 coal-fired power plants) in a timely fashion. EPA did actually end up calculating the anticipated costs and some overwhelming benefits of the rule, but not soon enough for the nation’s top court.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the 5-4 majority in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 14-46, stated:

“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. Statutory context supports this reading.”

Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her dissent on th EPA rules:

“The agency acted well within its authority in declining to consider costs at the opening bell of the regulatory process, given that it would do so in every round thereafter—and given that the emissions limits finally issued would depend crucially on those accountings.”

However, says Keith Johnson, a senior reporter covering energy for Foreign Policy, “The judicial setback might actually hide a silver lining, by clearing the legal path for even more ambitious rules to fight climate change.”

The appeals court will reconsider the EPA rules case. Coal shares rose at the news, according to Jennifer Macdonald of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. However, because many American power plants already installed or have plans for scrubbers to diminish emissions in anticipation of the regs, the effect of delaying or scrapping the rule may turn out to be minimal, Johnson says.


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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."


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