On Monday June 29th, the Supreme Court ruled against the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to clean-up pollution from US coal-fired power plants. The ruling appears to favor economic concerns over cleaner air and water. The EPA’s 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standard rule was created to address some of the most toxic air pollution that emanates from coal-fired power plants.
The court was responding to a legal challenge from industry groups and 21 states which argued that the EPA’s regulations imposed unfair costs on utilities that burn coal to make electricity. The court appears to have been convinced by the argument that the EPA should have conducted a cost benefit analysis.
The opponents of the EPA said the cost is around $9.6 billion while the benefits are around $5 million. The EPA has indicated that the rules would save a minimum of $37 billion that includes at least a half a million work days and 11,000 premature deaths. Coal is the largest single source of pollution and a number of studies have shown that mercury pollution can cause respiratory illnesses as well as birth defects and developmental problems in children.
“The Court has sided with the Dirty Delinquents—the small percentage of coal-fired plants that haven’t cleaned up—and against the majority that are already protecting our children from mercury and other toxic pollutants,” EDF President Fred Krupp said in response to the ruling.
Although the mercury and toxic rule was not struck down altogether, the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 decision will halt further implementation.. However, t will not alter the majority of states that have already engaged efforts to comply with the ruling.
Republicans in Congress have been vocal opponents of the President’s environmental policies and they are using this ruling to buoy their efforts to resist reductions in global warming causing emissions.
While the Supreme Court’s decision is a setback for the Obama administration, it does not challenge the EPA’s authority to regulate emissions. Some believe that to win the courts favor the EPA must present a thorough accounting of the costs and benefits.