Court Sides With EPA On Mercury Emissions

Washington — A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld regulations adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency to cut mercury and other emissions from large power plants, a setback for states and energy trade groups that have been challenging Clean Air Act regulations during the Obama administration.

The decision by a three-judge panel at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit means that coal- and oil-fired plants must purchase scrubbers and other equipment to prevent 91 percent of mercury from being released into the air during the burning of coal.

States led by conservative governors — among them Michigan, Idaho, Ohio, Alaska and Kansas —joined trade groups in claiming that the EPA overstepped its authority by crafting the mercury rule without considering its $9.6 billion per year cost to the economy, risking 16,000 jobs.

When Congress granted the EPA the authority to limit emissions of hazardous air pollutants in 1990, lawmakers were more concerned with the impact on human health than costs, Judge Judith Rogers wrote in the opinion.

“Congress was focused on the health hazard of emissions and the slowness of EPA regulation of them, and concluded it was reasonable to make decisions without considering costs,” Rogers wrote. There was no congressional requirement for the agency to focus on the economic hit.

Other factors weighed against the financial impact to industry, including health and environmental improvements worth more than $100 billion a year, the EPA said. The American Lung Association claimed it would prevent 11,000 premature deaths, about 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks.