Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Supreme Court Will Decide If Coal Plants Can Keep Emitting Unlimited Mercury

Piles of coal are shown at NRG Energy’s W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station Wednesday, March 16, 2011, in Thompsons, Texas. The plant, which operates natural gas and coal-fired units, is one of the largest power plants in the United States. (Credit: AP) Click to Enlarge.
The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Wednesday on a case that will decide the immediate future of mercury and arsenic pollution in the United States.

The case, Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, surrounds the legality of a rule that would for the first time limit heavy metal pollution from oil- and coal-fired power plants.  The EPA has been trying to implement a rule like this for more than two decades.  If all goes well for the agency, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard will finally go into effect this spring.

But if all does not go well for the EPA, the much-anticipated rule will go back to the drawing board.  Power plants will continue being allowed to emit unlimited amounts of mercury, arsenic, chromium, and other toxins until another EPA rule goes through the regulatory approval process, which often takes years.

“[A ruling against the EPA] would set back the regulations a lot,” said Jim Pew, an attorney at the environmental law firm Earthjustice.  “It would be another chance for the industry to delay things and try to stop [EPA] politically, which is what they’ve been trying to do for 20 years.”

Right now, coal and oil-fired power plants have no requirements to limit their toxic metal emissions.  As a result, they are the largest industrial source of toxic air pollution in the country.  Coal plants, for example, are responsible for 50 percent of all U.S. emissions of mercury, a neurotoxin particularly dangerous to unborn children.  Other toxic metals emitted from power plants, such as arsenic, chromium, and nickel, can cause cancer.

If and when the EPA’s rule is implemented, the agency estimates that up to 11,000 premature deaths would be prevented every year; that IQ loss to children exposed to mercury in the womb would be reduced; and that there would be annual monetized benefits of between $37 billion and $90 billion.

At the core of the lawsuit’s legal argument, however, is not health — it’s cost.  Brought by the state of Michigan and 19 other Republican-led states, it argues that the EPA didn’t consider how much it would cost the power industry before it decided to issue limits on mercury and arsenic.

Read more at The Supreme Court Is About to Decide If Coal Plants Can Keep Emitting Unlimited Mercury

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