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Chief Justice Rejects Effort to Block Mercury Rule

The EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards affect 580 power plants nationwide. (Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons)
The EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards affect 580 power plants nationwide. (Tony Webster/Wikimedia Commons)
March 4, 2016

PHILADELPHIA - Chief Justice John Roberts on Thursday denied a request from 20 states to block enforcement of the Environmental Protection Agency's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. The so-called "MATS" rule affects some 580 coal-fired power plants nationwide, including 38 in Pennsylvania.

Besides mercury, said Augusta Wilson, staff attorney at the Clean Air Council, the rule establishes standards for a variety of chemicals - including arsenic, chromium and cadmium, "all of which are very dangerous toxins - some of them very potent neurotoxins. Others cause respiratory problems, cardiovascular problems. So, there's a wide range of health impacts."

The states, led by Michigan, had asked to stop enforcement of the rule based on an earlier Supreme Court ruling that the EPA had failed to conduct the proper cost-benefit analysis of its implementation.

That ruling, handed down last June, didn't overturn the rule, and the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals said the rule could go into effect as the EPA completed the analysis. According to Wilson, the agency had done the analysis, but at the wrong stage of the regulatory process.

"All the ruling really said was, 'EPA, you need to try again and you need to do this cost-benefit analysis in the right place in the rule-making' - which EPA has now undertaken," Wilson said, "and, as I understand it, they're actually very close to finalizing."

The environmental law firm Earthjustice has estimated that enforcement of the mercury rule will save from 4,200 to 11,000 lives per year.

Wilson called Roberts' denial of the request to block the MATS rule "a great victory" for the environment and public health.

"It means that the rule will continue to be implemented, that there won't be any interruptions," she said, "and so, there will be less dangerous pollution that's emitted."

The states challenging the rule still could seek to have the full Supreme Court review the chief justice's decision.

Information about the case is on the Supreme Court's blog at scotusblog.com.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA