Supreme Court’s Blocking of EPA’s Mercury Emissions Rule a “Setback for the Agency’s Institutional Arrogance,” Environmental Scholar Says

Washington, D.C. – With its 5-4 decision setting aside one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) most far-reaching regulations targeting coal-fired power plants, the U.S. Supreme Court “has reminded EPA that it, too, must abide by the law,” said Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

cohen_smIn overturning the Obama Administration’s regulatory initiative, the court ruled in Michigan v. EPA that the agency should have taken into account the cost to utilities, consumers, and others before deciding to go forward with the regulation. EPA’s failure to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on its plan to regulate emissions of mercury, arsenic, and acid gasses from coal-fired power plants violates the Clean Air Act, the court ruled.

“EPA strayed well beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in concluding that cost is not a factor relevant to the appropriateness of regulating power plants,” the court wrote.

The Clean Air Act requires regulations to be “appropriate” and “necessary,” and carrying out a cost-benefit analysis is a traditional way to make such a determination. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote: “It is not rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars of economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits. Statutory context supports this reading.”

EPA’s rule was challenged by 20 states, as well as significant sectors of the energy and mining industries. The rule will remain in limbo until EPA decides whether it wants to conduct a cost-benefit analysis in accordance with the Clean Air Act and the Supreme Court’s decision.

“It takes a high degree of institutional arrogance to assume that you can ignore the law and impose burdensome costs on over 300 million people simply because you think you can get away with it,” Cohen added. “But the EPA couldn’t even pull the wool over this Supreme Court’s eyes.”

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