U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Latest Effort to Block Air-Pollution Rule

Twenty states tried to derail the Obama administration’s mercury regulation.
Southern Company’s Plant Bowen in Cartersville, Georgia, one of the biggest coal-fired power stations in the country. (Photo: Chris Baltimore/Reuters)
Mar 3, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

The United States Supreme Court has rejected an effort to block a regulation slashing emissions of mercury, arsenic, and other toxic pollutants from the smokestacks of coal-fired power plants.

Twenty states asked the court to suspend the 2012 rule until the Environmental Protection Agency has reported on the costs of implementing it as well as how much quantifiable benefit it will have for public health.

But on Thursday, Chief Justice John Roberts turned down that request without comment, reported SCOTUSblog, a legal news website that tracks and analyzes Supreme Court decisions.

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“Under the rules of the court, the states could take their request for delay to another member of the court, but that maneuver seldom is successful,” wrote SCOTUSblog reporter Lyle Denniston.

“EPA had argued both in lower courts and in the Supreme Court that the health hazards of suspending the rule would continue to exist, and, in any event, it was well along in its consideration of the costs question and would be able to wind that up in a matter of a few weeks,” he added.

Mercury exposure can harm the nervous-system development of fetuses and young children. Coal-fired power plants are the leading cause of mercury pollution in the U.S., according to the EPA.

They also emit cancer-causing metals such as nickel, chromium, and arsenic as well as pollutants that contribute to asthma and heart disease, which are also covered under the pollution rule.

The Supreme Court ruled last spring that the Clean Air Act required the cost-benefit study of the mercury rule but allowed the Obama administration to continue enforcing the regulation while the EPA completes that analysis.

“All told, for every dollar spent to make these cuts, the public is receiving up to $9 in health benefits,” the EPA said in a statement lauding Thursday’s order from Roberts.

In February, the Supreme Court blocked enforcement of another federal air-pollution regulation—the Clean Power Plan—to slash carbon emissions, which are the leading cause of climate change, from the power sector.