US Supreme Court ruled against EPA limiting mercury emissions from power plants

Jun 30, 2015 12:05 IST

The United States (US) Supreme Court on 29 June 2015 ruled against the rules of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants, undermining the Barack Obama administration's drive to cut pollution from electricity generators.

The court ruled 5-4 in an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia. The case looked at the EPA's regulation of mercury and other emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act, 1970. The Clean Air Act directs the EPA to regulate emissions of hazardous air pollutants from certain stationary sources such as refineries and factories.

The question before the court hinged on the interpretation of a line in the Clean Air Act stating that the EPA shall regulate emissions from electric utilities if the agency finds that such regulation is “appropriate and necessary”.

The court assessed whether the EPA's interpretation of the word ‘appropriate’ had to include the ‘costs of compliance.’ It said that EPA interpreted the law unreasonably when it failed to consider the costs of compliance with the new regulations. Over more than a decade, EPA took costs into account at multiple stages and through multiple means as it set emissions limits for power plants.

The ruling puts the administration under pressure to redo the rules before President Barack Obama’s second term ends.

Background
The EPA adopted the mercury rules limiting the release of mercury, heavy metals and acid gases from power plants in December 2011 and they went into effect in 2015. While many newer power plants have technology to curb those hazardous releases, the rules target plants that still do not capture those emissions.

The rules affected about 600 US power plants, the majority of which were fueled by coal. Industry groups and 23 states challenged the rule, arguing that the EPA failed to take into account the cost of compliance, which they put at 9.6 billion US dollars.

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