EPA faces Supreme Court test in pollutant limits


The Environmental Protection Agency’s rule to limit mercury and other hazardous emissions from coal and oil-fired power plants faces a final showdown with the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The rule is called Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, which will set emissions standards for all hazardous air pollutants emitted by coal- and oil-fired power plants at a capacity of 25 megawatts or greater.

The new standards will result in a 90 percent reduction in mercury emissions and other toxic gases, as well as a 30 percent reduction in carbon pollution resulting from electric power generation by 2030.

The EPA’s hope is that this rule will incentivize businesses and companies to innovate andprovide them with the tools to realize energy savings. The shift to renewable energy comes at a time where Union is seeking to do the same.

According to Union’s Climate Action plan, it is seeking to reduce the 32 percent share that purchased electricity contributes to the college’s total carbon footprint.

Existing sources will have up to four years to comply with this new rule — more than adequate time for nearly all pollutant sources to comply, according to the EPA’s analysis.

Central to the outcome of the Supreme Court case is whether the EPA had to take costs into account when first drafting the regulations to limit hazardous pollutants from power plants.

Liberal justices of the Supreme Court contend that just taking health risks into account would be enough to justify the agency’s regulations.

The Supreme Court is divided over this challenge, brought by industry advocates and 21 conservative states over the EPA’s decision to regulate power-plant emissions.

Coal-fired power plants are among the largest emitters of pollutants into the atmosphere.

Coal and oil industry advocates argue that this regulation represents unnecessary federal overreach that will impose burdening costs on their interest.

However, government officials argue that the agency’s action is needed to protect public health.

Critics also have characterized the agency’s actions as too punitive, akin to starting a “war on coal.”

General Electric Company is one of the industries unsure of the new EPA regulations.

On one hand, the new regulations will cause GE as a corporation to suffer, as many of its operations are energy-intensive, pollutant-heavy manufacturing.

The National Association of Manufacturers, of which GE is a member, contends that an emissions curb will hurt the competitive advantage of U.S.-based manufacturers and will also significantly increase the cost of power for industries.

On the other hand, the EPA regulations will provide a boon for GE’s renewable power generation business, based in Schenectady.

It will almost certainly increase long-term sales for wind and steam turbines. According to CEO of GE’s renewable energy business Anne McEntee, “We feel confident that, with our strong backlog of orders, we are strongly positioned for 2014 and 2015.”

GE’s optimism in the growth of its wind industry comes at a time when the company is actively recruiting Union student interns to further promote the sale of its renewable energy products, especially that of wind energy.

Many states, including New York, have joined largely in support of the EPA’s actions, arguing to set tougher standards in regards to regulating pollutants in order to protect the general public from the harms of exposure.

Like many of the states that agree with the EPA in principle, New York officials believe that the EPA should give more credit to states that have made great strides in reducing power-plant emissions in the past.

The fear is that EPA regulations will require more from states that have had a track record of successfully reducing emissions in the past, and less from states that have not yet done their share in aggressively meeting emissions goals.

Mead Binhammer ’17 shares the point of view that the regulations should stand as is, and believes that judicial intervention to decide whether to limit hazardous emissions from power plants is not necessary.

As an environmentalist, he was dismayed that the Supreme Court still found it necessary to hear the case and at how such emission-reduction rules could get caught up in partisan politics.

“In terms of regulating emissions, the Supreme Court should not stand in the way of such policies.

“A certain degree of government influence is needed to incentivize corporations and industries to reduce emissions in this day and age of climate change,” said Binhammer.

The Supreme Court, widely seen as conservative-leaning since the justices’ appointments made by President George W. Bush, may still ultimately uphold the EPA’s regulations.

Wednesday’s oral arguments in the Supreme Court will be the latest challenge to plans to reduce hazardous emissions. Precedent cases have shown that the EPA seems to be on a winning streak.

Last year, in Utility Air vs. EPA, the court upheld the agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from large industrial stationary source polluters.

This decision was built on the 2007 case of the state of Massachusetts vs. EPA, which required the agency to regulate toxic gases from motor vehicles as long as it was found to endanger public health or welfare.

The EPA’s rule has been long in the making.

In the final year of Clinton’s administration, a lengthy EPA study noted that regulation of coal- and oil-fired power plants was appropriate.

The EPA under George W. Bush backed off from such an idea, but in 2008, several downwind states successfully challenged that such a retreat by the EPA violated the law.


Leave a Reply