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Supreme Court hears DACA arguments, and likely will side with the Trump administration, but doesn't take up a gun manufacturer's appeal. Former SC Gov. Mark Sanford drops out of presidential race; and former President Jimmy Carter recovers from brain surgery.

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SCOTUS Takes Up EPA Power-Plant Pollution Limits

PHOTO: A 2012 report estimated that 56 percent of Americans live near a coal- or oil-burning power plant that could be affected by the EPA's limits on airborne toxins. Photo credit: Chris Jordan-Bloch, Earthjustice.
PHOTO: A 2012 report estimated that 56 percent of Americans live near a coal- or oil-burning power plant that could be affected by the EPA's limits on airborne toxins. Photo credit: Chris Jordan-Bloch, Earthjustice.
March 25, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court is to hear arguments about whether the Environmental Protection Agency can require power plants to clean up their toxic emissions, as the coal industry and its supporters continue to challenge the agency's standards for mercury and other airborne toxins.

The case is full of semantics about what is "necessary and appropriate" - but more than half of Americans live and breathe in the vicinity of a coal- or oil-burning power plant, including 13 in California.

Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew said the industry has avoided this type of regulation for 20 years.

"They're sort of chugging along, putting this stuff out in far greater amounts than any other industry in the country," he said, "and they're making the breathtaking argument that they, of all industries, should be exempted from having to control it."

The coal industry and EPA agree that it would cost about $9 billion a year to upgrade pollution controls at the plants, but they disagree on the value of the potential benefits of cleaner air. The EPA says it would prevent from 4,000 to 11,000 premature deaths a year, and that a monetary value can't be calculated for some of the benefits.

Exposure to toxins from power plants is higher in communities of color - 71 percent for African-Americans, compared with 56 percent for the general public - according to the NAACP, which partnered with other groups to survey the related health concerns in 2012. What they discovered prompted them to intervene in the case in favor of pollution controls, said Jacqui Patterson, director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program.

"We found that these coal plants are disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color," she said, "particularly African-American, Latino-American and Native American communities."

Exposure to airborne toxins is linked to heart attacks, asthma and birth defects. California is one of 17 states that signed a brief in favor of the need for air-pollution controls. Some power companies also support them.

The high court's decision is expected this summer. Information on the case is online at scotusblog.com.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - CA