Coal plants are facing a series of EPA regulations that are requiring owners to invest in pollution controls or shutter aging plants. The new standards apply to about 1,400 coal and oil-fired generating units at 600 power plants, reports Bloomberg.
Following an April decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to uphold the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for curbing mercury and toxic air pollution from power plants, 21 states and members of the industry, including the National Mining Association, have decided to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
The groups trying to appeal the decision claim that the EPA did not take into consideration the cost of meeting new regulations. By its own estimations, the EPA believes that meeting its regulations will cost the industry $9.6 billion a year, reports the New York Times.
In its petition seeking review of the appeals court’s ruling, the National Mining Association said the mercury regulation’s costs far outweighed its benefits. “No rational person,” the group’s brief said, “would see spending $9.6 billion for $4 million to $6 million in return as an appropriate exchange.”
The EPA’s current process requires the agency to consider the costs at a later phase in the process of deciding regulations. In its brief, the agency said it considers “compliance costs when establishing the appropriate level of any power plant regulation, but not when deciding whether to regulate those plants” at all.
The divided three-judge panel in the appeals court disagreed with the National Mining Association’s assessment, however. The majority opinion stated that, “for the EPA to focus its ‘appropriate and necessary’ determination on factors relating to public health hazards, and not industry’s objections that emission controls are costly, properly puts the horse before the cart.”
The agency also disputed the mining group’s calculations. Once fully in place in 2016, the regulations would yield benefits that could total as much as $90 billion, the EPA said in its brief. “Those quantifiable benefits,” it said, “include the prevention of up to 11,000 premature deaths each year and the prevention of I.Q. loss to children whose mothers who [come in contact with these toxins.]”
This case will mark the third time in recent memory that the Supreme Court has heard cases involving the EPA. In June, the court upheld the agency’s requirement that power plants, refineries and chemical factories curb their carbon emissions. In April, the justices backed a rule targeting pollutants that cause smog and acid rain across state lines. Whether or not the court will continue to back the EPA’s regulations remains to be seen, however.
With other major EPA regulations expected to be finalized in the next year, including one that will slash greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, this case will set the precedent for how much consideration the agency will be required to give costs to the industry as a factor when regulating. The Supreme Court will focus on “whether the EPA unreasonably refused to consider costs in determining whether it is appropriate to regulate hazardous air pollutants emitted by electrical utilities.”
The EPA said that its rules on mercury emissions will stay in effect throughout the court case. The court will hear arguments next year and rule by June.
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