Court Upholds EPA Emission Standards
Says restrictions on coal-fired power plants can continue
16 April 2014
WASHINGTON (AP) - A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the
Environmental Protection Agency's first emission standards for
mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal- and
oil-fired power plants.
In its ruling, the court rejected state and industry challenges to
rules designed to clean up chromium, arsenic, acid gases, nickel,
cadmium as well as mercury and other dangerous toxins.
The EPA's determination in 2000 that regulating emission standards
is appropriate and necessary, and the agency's reaffirmation of
that determination in 2012, "are amply supported by EPA's findings
regarding the health effects of mercury exposure," said the court.
Congress did not specify what types or levels of public health
risks should be deemed a hazard under federal law. By leaving this
gap in the statute, Congress delegated to the EPA the authority to
give reasonable meaning to the term "hazard," said the court.
In the majority were chief judge Merrick Garland and judge Judith
Rogers, both appointees of President Bill Clinton.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, an appointee of President George W. Bush,
joined most of the decision, but he parted company with his
colleagues on the issue of cost - specifically, whether the EPA is
obligated to consider industry costs in deciding whether
regulation of hazardous air pollutants from power plants is
"The problem here is that EPA did not even consider the costs,"
Kavanaugh said. "And the costs are huge, about $9.6 billion a year
- that's billion with a b - by EPA's own calculation."
In response, the majority said the EPA properly decided that the
decision whether to regulate mercury should be based on health
risks, not compliance costs. The majority added that the EPA had
determined that benefits of the rule exceeded costs by a factor of
at least 3 to 1. Some industry groups have said the EPA was
overstating the benefits.
It is only in the first stage of rulemaking that the EPA doesn't
industry costs, said the majority opinion. It added that the
second stage leads to standards that are more restrictive and
that, when setting those, the EPA does consider costs.
The new regulations are designed to remove toxins from the air
that contribute to respiratory illnesses, birth defects and
developmental problems in children.
Most companies operating power plants will have until March 2015
to meet the standards, but a state could grant an additional year
and the EPA could extend the deadline until 2017 if the unit was
critical for reliability.
The EPA proposed the rules in 2011.
Tuesday's ruling is "a giant step forward on the road to cleaner,
healthier air," said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental
Defense Fund, which was a party in the case.
The EPA called the decision "a victory for public health and the
"These practical and cost-effective standards will save thousands
of lives each year, prevent heart and asthma attacks, while
slashing emissions of the neurotoxin mercury, which can impair
children's ability to learn," the EPA said.
Laura Sheehan, senior vice president of communications for the
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said that due in
part to regulations like the one in Tuesday's ruling, almost 300
coal-fueled generating units in 33 states have announced they will
shut down, costing the electricity sector roughly $200 billion in
compliance costs and destroying at least 544,000 jobs.
Sheehan said that impacts of EPA's rulemaking processes aimed at
coal have already been seen this past winter, with coal power
plant retirements leading to increased reliance on natural gas - a
just-in-time fuel source subject to volatile price spikes that
many consumers and small businesses bore the brunt of. She said
such impacts will only increase as more coal units are retired,
especially next spring, the deadline for complying with the
The coalition says industry has invested $130 billion to reduce
major emissions from coal-fueled power plants by nearly 90 percent
and that it plans to invest another $100 billion over the next
decade on clean coal technology.