Justices Toss Emissions Rules for Power Plants

     (CN) – A divided Supreme Court on Monday blocked a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s environmental policy, throwing out a regulation that would have strictly limited mercury and other toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants.
     Twenty states and many industry groups representing the power plants and the coal industry challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to regulate the emissions, arguing that the government failed to take into account the enormous costs that would accompany compliance.
     In response, the agency argued that it was not required to perform a cost-benefit analysis when it first decided to regulate the emissions, and that it did perform one later, when it actually set the standards to be met.
     Congressional Republicans neatly summed up the opponents’ position by declaring the administration was engaged in a “war on coal.”
     Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the majority opinion in the 5-4 decision.
     According to Scalia, “EPA strayed well beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in concluding that cost is not a factor relevant to the appropriateness of regulating power plants.”
     “Congress instructed EPA to add power plants to the program if (and only if) the Agency finds regulation ‘Appropriate and necessary’ … One does not need to open up a dictionary in order to realize the capaciousness of this phrase,” Scalia wrote.
     “Read naturally in the present context, the phrase ‘appropriate and necessary’ requires at least some attention to cost,” he continued. “One would not say that it is even rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits.”
     The ruling reversed a ruling by D.C. Circuit, which held that the agency’s interpretation of the Clean Air Act was reasonable.
     Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, slammed the majority, holding that Scalia’s view is “a peculiarly blinkered way for a court to assess the lawfulness of an agency’s rulemaking.”
     “Over more than a decade, EPA took costs into account at multiple stages and through multiple means as it set emissions limits for power plants,” Kagan wrote. “When making its initial ‘appropriate and necessary’ finding, EPA knew it would do exactly that – knew it would thoroughly consider the cost-effectiveness of emission standards later on.”
     She added later, “The agency acted well within its authority in declining to consider costs at the opening bell of the regulatory process given that it would do so in very other round thereafter.”

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