Supreme Court Backs EPA on Mercury Air Toxics Standards

Posted on 3/4/2016 by Roger Marks

On Wednesday, March 2, the US Supreme Court chose not to hear a petition to block EPA rules to limit mercury and other toxic air pollutants emitted from coal-burning power plants—the Mercury Air Toxics Standards (MATS). 

Clean Air Act Section 112 Authority  

Under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act authorizes US EPA to set national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants, or NESHAPs, from major sources. In February 2012, EPA sought to include coal- and oil-fired electricity generating units (EGUs) on the list of major sources of air pollution.

Clean Air Act and Michigan v. EPA

In June 2015, the Supreme Court, in Michigan v. EPA, ruled that US EPA unreasonably interpreted Federal law when it set the MATS Final Rule, citing the Agency’s failure to consider costs to industry. This returned the case to the lower court for further argument.

After this decision, twenty US states joined together to challenge the rule, claiming that because EPA overstepped its authority and did not adequately consider costs to industry during the rulemaking process, the Supreme Court should “stay” the rule pending the outcome of litigation.

EPA released a supplemental finding in December 2015 to present and defend its cost-benefit analysis of new mercury air standards. This week’s Supreme Court decision rejects the states’ petition for a stay.

EPA Clean air act rules for power plants

What Happens Now?

Because the Supreme Court declined to hear the petition to stay EPA's Final Rule, implementation of the new air standards will continue while EPA again presents its case, including the cost-benefit analysis, in the lower courts. The DC Court of Appeals already declined to block the rule, and a re-do of this case may signal the end of challengers’ options to stop the new air requirements.

Another Clean Air Act Case to Watch

This is just one of the Supreme Court cases in recent memory devoted to EPA’s Clean Air Act rules for power plants. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to stay EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which sought to create new air quality standards for carbon dioxide (CO2) from power plants.

New Clean Air Act Training for EHS Pros

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