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EPA Directed to Consider Expense of Regulation of New Pollution Sources

EPA Directed to Consider Expense of Regulation of New Pollution SourcesThe U.S. Supreme Court stepped in earlier this year after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) established national caps on the release of mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants. In establishing the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), the agency weighed the health benefits of the new standards and concluded that the rule would prevent 170,000 asthma attacks, 4,700 heart attacks, and 11,000 early deaths annually. However, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed lower court rulings upholding the rule because the agency failed to consider the economic costs associated with the new standards.

An array of parties that include 23 states challenged the new clean air emissions standards based on the failure of the agency to evaluate and consider the cost of the regulations. In reversing lower court ruling and remanding the case back to the lower court, SCOTUS relied on language in the Clean Air Act. Section 7412(n)(1)(A) authorizes inclusion of power plants in the program but only if such a step is “appropriate and necessary.” The provision indicates that spending billions for a few dollars in environmental benefits would clearly be inappropriate. The nation’s highest court also relied on a provision directing that health and environmental effects of restricting power plant emissions be considered in light of the “costs of such technologies.” See Section 7412(n)(1)(B).

The EPA contended that the law did not impose a duty on the agency to consider costs with regard to whether power plant emissions would be included under the Clean Air Act. According to the agency, the issue of costs was only relevant to consideration of the amount of regulation appropriate to limit emissions. In rejecting this position, the court analogized the situation to purchasing a vehicle. The majority concluded the EPA position was comparable to ignoring the cost of a Ferrari when purchasing it but conceding that the cost will be considered before subsequently installing a stereo system.

The bottom line is that SCOTUS ruling ties the health benefits from regulation of emissions of power plants to the financial impact of those regulations. If you have questions regarding environmental law issues, we invite you to contact us to schedule a free consultation with a Tacoma environmental law lawyer. Call the Dickson Frohlich Phillips Burgess today at (253) 572-1000 or send us an email at