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SCOTUS Rejects Call to Review Mercury Rules

DETROIT (CN) - With little fanfare, the U.S. Supreme Court shot down a bid Thursday to take another look at federal mercury standards.

The D.C. Circuit is supposed to be reviewing the issue after the Supreme Court found last year that the Environmental Protection Agency had adopting the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, a cornerstone of President Barack Obama's environmental policy, with no heed to their cost.

Upset at the lack of developments since that June 2015 decision, Michigan and 21 other petitioned Chief Justice John Roberts last week for a stay or injunction.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette said compliance with the regulation has already cost various utilities billions of dollars, and that these costs will be passed to "all families who use electricity."

With the EPA forecasting just $4 million to $6 million in annual environmental benefits, Schuette said the ratio breaks down to at least $26 of costs for every $1 of benefit.

Roberts rejected the petition without any comment Thursday, just one day after receiving an objection to the request from the EPA.

Speaking of the agency, U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. noted that the EPA plans to issue a revised version of the mercury regulations on April 15.

Verrilli said Michigan and the others "cannot show that they will suffer irreparable harm in the six-week period between now and April 15."

Emphasizing the benefits to public health and the environment, Verrilli noted that full compliance with the rule in 2015 was expected to reduce hydrogen chloride emissions by 88 percent, mercury emissions by 75 percent and sulfur dioxide emissions by 41 percent - plus a 19 percent reduction in particulate-matter emissions from large coal-fired plants.

The EPA predicted that full compliance in 2016 meanwhile would lead to 11,000 fewer premature deaths, and 3,100 fewer emergency-room visits, according to the opposition brief.

Though the states claim that monitoring, reporting and recordkeeping requirements come at a cost of $158 million a year, these costs fall to the power plants, not the states, Verrilli said.

Court interference now "could upset contractual commitments and construction plants that power plants have already made," the 26-page filing states.

Calling the reference to billions in compliance costs without merit, Verrilli noted that, by the states own admission, those costs "have already been lost" and are "irrecoverable." Injunctions on the other hand are meant to prevent future harm.

He added that "ordinary compliance costs are typically insufficient to constitute irreparable harm."

Verrilli also emphasized that the Supreme Court remanded the case to the D.C. Circuit last year, rather than vacating the rule as the challenging states had requested.

"The fact that this court ruled for applicants on the merits does not imply any particular view as to the proper remedy for EPA's failure to consider compliance coasts as part of the 'appropriate and necessary' determination when it initially promulgated the rule," the solicitor general's answer states.

In addition to Verrilli's filing, the Supreme Court also received an opposition brief joined by the attorneys general of 15 states, plus the District of Columbia, as well as attorneys representing various cities, counties and environmental groups across the nation.

This June, the D.C. Circuit will hear a challenge to another aspect of Obama's Clean Power plan that requires states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent by 2030, relative to 2005 levels.

Michigan is a challenger in that case as well but joined 17 states in a pledge last month to expand clean-energy reforms.

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