Scalia Chooses Industry Costs Over Public Health
Today the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a 5-4 decision against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regarding EPA’s first-ever limits on mercury, arsenic and acid gases emitted by coal-fired power plants, known as mercury and air toxics (MATS). SCOTUS determined that the EPA did not properly consider the costs of complying with their MATS rule. In his majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia literally posited that it’s more important to consider costs to the coal industry than protecting public health stating, “It is not appropriate to impose billions of dollars of economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits.”
What’s interesting is that the EPA actually did consider these costs estimating that their rule, which took effect for some plants in April, would cost $9.6 billion, produce between $37 billion and $90 billion in benefits and prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths and 130,000 asthma cases annually. However, SCOTUS contends that the EPA acted unreasonably in taking these costs into account. This is not as big of a defeat as it seems though. Basically, SCOTUS has sent the case back to the D.C. District Court, which will determine the appropriate method for EPA to account for costs to the industry; and the EPA is permitted to propose their plan again once this method has been determined.
Also ironic is the fact that approximately 600 power plants, which are affected by the EPA’s mercury rules, have already made the necessary changes and upgrades to comply with the standards. Other operators have found that shuttering coal-fired power units is cheaper than installing the necessary equipment, especially given the fierce competition from cheaper natural gas in recent years — which means the mercury plans have actually been effective.
So while this is not the crippling defeat that many news agencies are reporting, it’s clear that this is no time to decimate the EPA’s budget by 13 percent, as proposed in the current House of Representatives appropriations budget. And while President Obama has issued a veto threat for the budget, it will be up to us to continue pressing our lawmakers to fund the EPA at acceptable levels. Click here to contact your lawmakers about funding the EPA and stay tuned for more information on how this unfortunate ruling for public health and clean air may affect the President’s Clean Power Plan.