NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Supreme Court Will Hear Challenge to EPA Rule

December 1, 2014

In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a sweeping set of rules aimed at limiting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule -- also known as Utility MACT -- is wildly expensive. Nicolas Loris at the Heritage Foundation has reported on the rule's staggeringly divergent costs and benefits: its mercury reductions would create $6 million in benefits, yet the EPA cites benefits at $90 billion annually. How? It lumps in co-benefits from reducing particulate matter -- not mercury, the actual element targeted by the rule -- despite that those particulates are already regulated elsewhere.

The rule costs almost $10 billion annually, according to the EPA's estimates. NCPA Senior Research Fellow Ann Norman has written about this issue before, noting how the costs of the rule were between 1,500 and 19,000 times greater than the benefits from reducing mercury, the targeted pollutant.

Now, the New York Times reports the rule has found its way to the Supreme Court, with industry groups challenging the agency's refusal to consider costs when choosing to issue the regulation in the first place. The Clean Air Act asks that regulations be "appropriate and necessary." The EPA contends the requirement does not require the agency to analyze monetary costs when deciding whether it is appropriate to regulate. It considered costs later in the regulatory process, the agency says.

The D.C. Court of Appeals looked at the case in April 2014 and ruled in favor of the EPA, concluding it was reasonable for the agency to look at public health concerns when deciding whether the rule was "appropriate or necessary," rather than looking at costs. The court was divided, however, with the dissenting judge saying the agency should have considered costs, both as a matter of "common sense" and "common practice."

Source: Adam Liptak and Coral Davenport, "Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to Rules on Mercury From Power Plants," New York Times, November 25, 2014. 

 

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