US top court rejects challenge to Obama mercury air pollution rule

coal power plantRule went into effect in April 2015, applies to about 1,400 electricity-generating units at 600 power plants

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday let stand a lower-court ruling that left in place Obama administration environmental regulations limiting power plant emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants while the Environmental Protection Agency revised them.

coal demandThe justices opted not to hear an appeal by 20 states led by Michigan of a December U.S. appeals court decision that said the rules could remain intact while the government responded to last year’s Supreme Court ruling that the EPA should have considered the compliance costs when crafting the regulations. The rules affect mainly coal-fired power plants.

It marked the second time this year that the Supreme Court has spurned the states on the issue. Chief Justice John Roberts on March 3 declined their request for a stay to put the regulations on hold following the December ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The EPA has since updated the regulations, finding in April that they were necessary even when costs that would be incurred by industry are taken into account.

“That finding reflects EPA’s determination that consideration of cost does not justify any alteration of its prior conclusion that regulation of hazardous emissions from power plants is ‘appropriate and necessary,'” the Obama administration said in court papers.

The EPA’s April decision is itself challengeable in court. Coal company Murray Energy Corp has already filed a lawsuit.

The Supreme Court in June 2015 ruled that the Obama administration wrongly failed to consider compliance costs when it devised the regulations, which were intended to reduce deaths caused by air pollution and reduce cases of mercury poisoning that can cause developmental delays and abnormalities in children.

The justices left it up to the appeals court to decide whether the rule had to be thrown out altogether while the agency revised it.

According to the EPA, the rule, which went into effect in April 2015, applies to about 1,400 electricity-generating units at 600 power plants. Many are already in compliance, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.

The regulation, which covered oil-fired plants as well as coal-burning ones, was challenged by Michigan and other states in addition to various industry groups, including the National Mining Association. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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