The Supreme Court is stepping into a new case about Obama administration environmental rules, agreeing to review a ruling that upholds emission standards for mercury and other hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants. The justices today said they would hear arguments from industry groups and states that are challenging Environmental Protection Agency rules designed to clean up chromium, arsenic, acid gases, nickel, cadmium, as well as mercury and other dangerous toxins. The pollutants contribute to respiratory illnesses, birth defects, and developmental problems in children. The federal appeals court in Washington, DC, upheld the rules in April.
One judge on the appeals court complained then that the EPA didn't consider costs in deciding whether regulation of hazardous air pollutants from power plants is appropriate. "The problem here is that EPA did not even consider the costs," wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. "And the costs are huge, about $9.6 billion a year—that's billion with a b—by EPA's own calculation." The other two judges on the appellate panel said in response that the EPA properly looked only at health risks, not compliance costs, in deciding that mercury and the other pollutants should be regulated. But the EPA determined that when the rules are fully in effect in 2016, their benefits will exceed the costs by a factor of at least 3 to 1. Some industry groups have said the EPA was overstating the benefits. (Read more EPA stories.)