Supreme Court rejects mercury emissions rule

The U.S. Supreme Court has rejected the Obama administration’s effort to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.

The 5-4 decision held that the Environmental Protection Agency should have considered costs the regulations may impose on industry.

“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 wrote for the majority.

The regulation was issued under a section of the Clean Air Act that demands that it be “appropriate and necessary.” The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. had ruled that this clause of the CAA does not require EPA to consider compliance costs at the stage of deciding whether to regulate.

EPA has worked to impose limits on mercury emissions from electrical facilities for more than two decades. The agency decided in Dec. 2000 that the CAA standard of “appropriate and necessary” compelled regulation of power plant mercury emissions.

A predecessor to the current regulation, issued by President George W. Bush’s administration in Mar. 2005, was struck down by a federal appeals court in 2008.

The regulations at issue before the Supreme Court, formally known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, were finalized in February 2012.

The agency argued that the regulation would produce public health benefits worth tens of billions of dollars.

The decision, which was supported by the five justices appointed by Republican Presidents, does not eliminate the legal effectiveness of the  regulations. Instead, the Court remanded the regulation to the agency, which basically means that EPA must reconsider it.

The case is Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, No. 14-46.

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