The U.S. Supreme Court today blocked the Obama administration‘s plan to limit mercury pollution by coal-fired power plants. Some 20 states, including Arkansas, and many industrial groups that said the Environmental Protection Agency had failed to consider the costs such regulations would impose.

Said the New York Times:


The Clean Air Act required the regulations to be “appropriate and necessary.” The challengers said the agency had run afoul of that law by deciding to regulate the emissions without first undertaking a cost-benefit analysis.

Apart from some environmental groups, little support was voiced for the proposed regulations in the Arkansas political arena. The Washington, D.C. circuit court had upheld the proposed rules. Still to come is a bigger challenge on carbon emissions, which has a bigger impact on coal-burning plants in Arkansas.

This was yet another 5-4 ruling, with Justice Kennedy siding this time with the conservative bloc — Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito.


According to the environmental group Earth Justice, the standards will remain in place while the D.C. Circuit Court and the EPA consider the issue further. Most power plants are already in compliance, Earth Justice contends, and a cost analysis should be easy to provide.

The case is at least of tangential interest on the carbon case, because cost of compliance has been the central objection to the rule, with opponents claiming a broadly negative impact on the economy.


Glen Hooks, director of the Sierra Club’s Arkansas chapter, lamented the decision.

“As a father, I am appalled by today’s decision. Instead of ensuring that our children grow up safe, healthy, and protected from pollution, the court chose to reject common-sense protections. As a result, our children are at higher risk to suffer from lifelong neurological damage brought on by exposure to toxic mercury, and we will see up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks annually.

“Practically speaking, today’s decision won’t revive the flagging fortunes of the dirty coal industry or slow down our nation’s transition to clean energy. Most utilities have long since made decisions about how to meet the standard. Only a few dozen coal plants are still operating today with no pollution controls for mercury and air toxics and no clear plans to install them.

“However, this flawed decision does raise concerns for our children and pregnant women, as utilities may further delay compliance decisions, or use this as an excuse to refuse to run their pollution controls. That’s why the EPA and the Obama Administration must now quickly propose revised safeguards that restores at least the same level of protections. It’s time to act to ensure progress made in cleaning up noxious pollution isn’t stalled any further, so that children across the America can grow up safe and healthy.

“Here in Arkansas, ratepayers are already being billed nearly half a billion dollars to retrofit the aging and dirty Flint Creek coal-fired power plant so that it may comply with MATS. In 2013, Sierra Club intervened and strongly opposed this cost as an unnecessary and expensive step to prop up an old coal plant—today’s decision overturning MATS proves our point that this enormous cost was unwarranted. Even today, Entergy Arkansas is seeking to increase our Arkansas power bills to, in part, pay for MATS upgrades to its dirty coal fleet.

“The Arkansas Public Service Commission should be very skeptical of utility rate increase requests to retrofit dirty coal plants. Coal is dirty, and no amount of scrubbers or retrofits will ever make them clean. Instead of billing Arkansas ratepayers to prop up an aging and dirty coal fleet, Sierra Club calls on the PSC to develop a plant to gradually phase out coal and replace it with clean, renewable sources of energy.”