Air pollution: profits and costs

Submitted: Jun 29, 2015
By: 
Badlands Journal editorial board

“Agencies have long treated cost as a centrally relevant factor when deciding whether to regulate,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. “Consideration of cost reflects the understanding that reasonable regulation ordinarily requires paying attention to the advantages and the disadvantages of agency decisions.” ... Mercury emissions from power plants fall into water and accumulate in fish, while other toxins like arsenic and hydrochloric acid also poison the environment and endanger public health. Regulators estimate strict emissions controls can prevent between 4,200 and 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 non-fatal heart attacks annually.

EPA further estimated that approximately seven percent of American women of childbearing age were being exposed to mercury in amounts that exceed a health-protective level. The agency also found the cancer-related risks posed by other metals emitted by power plants presented a potential public-health concern

-- Michael Doyle, McClatchyDC, June 29, 2015

 

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is not talking about costs. He is talking about energy company profits extracted at the cost of health and safety of humans, fish and wildlife as well as natural habitat destroyed by strip mining and mountain-top removal.  -- blj

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

6-29-15

McClatchy Washington Bureau

Supreme Court strikes down EPA clean-air rule, says cost must be accounted for

BY MICHAEL DOYLE

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 29, 2015 

: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2015/06/29/271505/supreme-court-strikes-down-epa.html#storylink=cpy

 

WASHINGTON — A divided Supreme Court on Monday ruled the Environmental Protection Agency must take cost into account when deciding whether to regulate mercurcy and other toxics emitted from coal-burning power plants.

In a case that pit states against each other, and split the energy industry as well, the court’s 5-4 conservative majority said the EPA acted unreasonably in not taking cost into account.

“Agencies have long treated cost as a centrally relevant factor when deciding whether to regulate,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote. “Consideration of cost reflects the understanding that reasonable regulation ordinarily requires paying attention to the advantages and the disadvantages of agency decisions.”

The decision will complicate federal efforts to control certain pollutants but could also, the successful challengers believe, help fend off onerous regulations and ensure that benefits outweigh costs. Twenty-one states, led by Michigan and including Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina and Texas joined in the challenge to the EPA.

From the other side, the attorneys general for 16 states including California and North Carolinarallied behind the EPA.

Further complicating the order of battle, some big energy companies including the Texas-based Calpine Corp. support the EPA while coal giant Peabody Energy and others oppose it.

The case involved the recurring cost-vs.-benefit dilemma in controlling pollution and challenged how the executive branche interpreted an ambiguous term written by members of Congress. In particular, the case centered on the meaning of the word “appropriate.”

The federal Clean Air Act requires the EPA to decide whether it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollutants emitted by electric utilities fueled by coal or oil. This threshold question precedes the actual setting of power plant emission standards. While “necessary” means protecting health, the meaning of “appropriate” is open to interpretation.

“Appropriate is a capacious term,” Justice Anthony Kennedy noted during oral argument.

The meaning of the word can also shift with the political winds.

In just a dozen years, as presidential administrations have changed, a Democrat-led EPA first issued a regulatory finding that it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate electric power plants, then a Republican-led EPA reversed that finding. This reversal was then overturned in court, and then a Democrat-led EPA issued an “appropriate” finding yet again.

Citing the dangers of pollution, the Obama administsration’s EPA now argues the initial decision under the Clean Air Act to regulate need not consider cost but instead can turn strictly on health effects. Cost comes into play when it comes to setting the actual regulatory standards, the EPA says.

Mercury emissions from power plants fall into water and accumulate in fish, while other toxins like arsenic and hydrochloric acid also poison the environment and endanger public health. Regulators estimate strict emissions controls can prevent between 4,200 and 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 non-fatal heart attacks annually.

EPA further estimated that approximately seven percent of American women of childbearing age were being exposed to mercury in amounts that exceed a health-protective level. The agency also found the cancer-related risks posed by other metals emitted by power plants presented a potential public-health concern

Challengers, citing the estimated $9.6 billion in annual costs imposed by tighter emission standards, contend that figuring out what’s appropriate includes weighing what industry and consumers will pay for tougher rules. The annual estimate covers the amortized cost of new equipment installation as well as operating expenses.



 

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