High Court decision will further delay reductions of toxic air emissions that will save thousands of lives and provide important health protections
Washington, D.C. — This morning in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court remanded the Environmental Protection Agency’s first-ever national standards for mercury and other toxic air pollution from coal- and oil- fired power plants. The Court held unreasonable EPA’s interpretation that it did not need to consider costs prior to finding whether it was “appropriate and necessary” to regulate power plants, and that costs must be evaluated before making such a finding. The unfortunate reality following the Court’s decision is that now, the standards, which would have saved between 4,400 and 11,000 lives each year by reducing mercury and other toxic pollution from the dirtiest power plants, and the health protections it would provide are in question while EPA responds to the remand.
However, the good news is that the High Court did not vacate the rule. The standards took effect on April 16, 2015, and many power plants have already begun preparation to meet them. Additionally, many existing power plants have been granted one-year compliance extensions to install the appropriate pollution controls. However, after today’s decision, the status of these plants and the corresponding near term health protections that would result are now in question.
Ann Weeks, Senior Counsel and Legal Director for Clean Air Task Force, said: “The Court’s ruling today directs EPA to take costs into consideration in deciding whether to regulate power plant toxic air emissions. As EPA has already done that analysis, in conjunction with issuing the final MATS rule, finding the public health benefits outweigh the rule’s costs by 9 to 1, we urge the Agency to respond to the decision today and quickly reissue the rule. We also will fight to make sure that the current levels of protection remain in place while the Agency does the work the Court has given it to do.”
“We are very disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision, which will the standards EPA set for mercury and other toxic pollution from dirty power plants,” said Dylan Voorhees, Clean Energy Director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Maine’s place at the tailpipe of many industrial polluters means we are particularly dependent on the EPA to clean up sources upwind of us. Mercury is a potent toxic chemical that attacks the developing brains of infants and children. Power plants are responsible for half of America’s toxic mercury pollution, which pollutes Maine waters, fish and wildlife.”
Importantly, the Court did not reject EPA’s key conclusions regarding toxic air emissions from power plants:
- Power plants are by far the worst industrial polluters;
- The health impacts of power plants’ emissions of toxic air pollution results in thousands of deaths, as well as hundreds of thousands of days lost because of respiratory illnesses, each year;
- Controlling toxic air emissions from power plants is both technologically and economically feasible;
- The overall benefits to public health from the standards would yield between $37 billion and $90 billion every year, yielding $3-$9 in health benefits for every $1 that it costs industry.
John Norbeck, acting president and CEO of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy organization in Pennsylvania, noted that “Today’s ruling allows EPA to reconsider its decision to regulate toxic emissions from power plants in light of an analysis showing $37 to $90 billion in benefits to public health and welfare against less than $10 billion per year in costs. We encourage EPA to act quickly to ensure those enormous net benefits are realized.”
The toxic air pollution addressed by EPA’s [remanded] standards has a dramatic, and often tragic, impact on communities. For example, the power plants covered under these standards are responsible for 50 percent of the United States’ emissions of mercury, a harmful neurotoxin that is particularly dangerous for children. More than 4 million women – almost seven percent of all U.S. women of childbearing age – are exposed to mercury levels that can harm fetal development. The standards remanded today would have reduced the mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants by 90 percent.
Clean Air Task Force, on behalf Conservation Law Foundation, Environment America, Izaak Walton League of America, Natural Resources Council of Maine, Ohio Environmental Council, and Citizens of Pennsylvania’s Future, helped defend these health safeguards as respondent-intervenors.
Clean Air Task Force is a nonprofit environmental organization with offices across the U.S. and in China. CATF works to help safeguard against the worst impacts of climate change by catalyzing the rapid global development and deployment of low carbon energy and other climate-protecting technologies through research and analysis, public advocacy leadership, and partnership with the private sector. For more information, please visit www.catf.us.