U.S. Supreme Court Declines to Hear Case, NRCM was Among Plaintiffs
Washington, D.C. – The United States Supreme Court this morning issued an order declining to consider overturning a decision that invalidated a Bush-era rule that would have allowed dangerously high levels of mercury pollution from power plants to persist – the program would not have taken full effect until well beyond 2020.
In 2008, the lower federal court held 3-0 that the Environmental Protection Agency rule violated the Clean Air Act by evading mandatory cuts in toxic mercury pollution from coal- and oil-fired power plants.
“We are thrilled that the Bush administration’s attempt to gut key provisions of the Clean Air Act has been overturned,” said Matt Prindiville, Clean Production Project Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Because Maine is at the end of the tailpipe for the nation’s air pollution, we bear the brunt of the toxic mercury and other hazardous pollutants from power plants. We’re counting on the Obama administration to craft rules that will truly protect the health of Maine and American families from toxic mercury pollution from power plants.”
The ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rebuked EPA for attempting to create an illegal loophole for the power generating industry, rather than applying the toughest emission standards of the Clean Air Act. Essentially, the Bush Administration’s appointees at EPA attempted to rewrite the Clean Air Act to exempt dirty power plants from requirements to reduce mercury pollution in the interest of protecting public health and the environment. Fourteen states and dozens of Native American tribes, public health and environmental groups, and organizations representing registered nurses and physicians challenged the EPA’s suite of rules in 2005. The states challenging this EPA rule are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin.
“The Supreme Court has now confirmed that EPA must follow the law as it is written. We are looking forward to working on rules that reflect the most protective controls achievable for this industry, as the Clean Air Act requires,” said Ann Weeks, attorney for Clean Air Task Force who represented U.S. PIRG, Ohio Environmental Council, Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Conservation Law Foundation in the case. “That’s what is needed now, if we are ever to alleviate the problem of mercury contamination in fish and wildlife.”
Approximately 1,100 coal-fired units at more than 450 existing power plants spew 48 tons of mercury into the air each year. Yet only 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury is needed to contaminate a 25-acre lake to the point where fish are unsafe to eat. Over 40 states have warned their citizens to avoid consuming various fish species due to mercury contamination, with over half of those mercury advisories applying to all waterbodies in the state.
Power plants also emit tens of thousands of tons of other air toxics, including hydrogen chloride, arsenic and lead.
The EPA rules generated controversy from the moment they were proposed in 2004, when it was discovered that industry attorneys – from the law firm from which EPA’s political management hailed – had drafted key language that EPA included verbatim in its proposal to let power plant companies off the hook. EPA’s internal auditor in the Office of Inspector General later discovered that EPA’s senior political management had ordered staff to work backwards from a pre-determined political outcome, “instead of basing the standard on an unbiased determination of what the top performing [power plant] units were achieving in practice.”
“Today’s ruling is a big win for the health of Maine people, our wildlife and the environment,” said Prindiville. “It brings us one step closer to making the fish caught in our lakes and rivers safe for people and wildlife of all ages.”