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Thursday, November 30, 2023
NEW YORK, Jun 29 2015 (IPS) - In a setback to the Barack Obama administration’s clean energy plans just five months ahead of a critical climate change summit in Paris this December, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday blocked an initiative to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants.
In a five-four decision, the majority of the sharply divided court declared that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had failed to take into account the high costs its rules would impose.
The new rules had been challenged by industry groups and 21 Republican-led states in which hundreds of the older plants are operating.
“One would not say that it is even rational, never mind ‘appropriate,’ to impose billions of dollars in economic costs in return for a few dollars in health or environmental benefits,” Justice Antonin Scalia said from the bench. “No regulation is ‘appropriate’ if it does significantly more harm than good.”
Long stymied by the U.S. Congress on issues related to climate change, Obama has tried to circumvent Republican lawmakers by offering dozens of regulatory tweaks and targets that his administration could implement without Congressional approval.
Last June, Obama said the new measures would get the United States back on track to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. The president originally set this goal three years before, but Congress failed to institute policies that that could allow for such a decrease.
The centrepiece of the plan was a crackdown on carbon pollution from power plants, both planned and existing. In the United States, power plants are responsible for some 40 percent of carbon emissions.
“We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulphur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free,” the president stated. “That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop.”
Much of Obama’s vision revolved around the ability of the EPA to enforce regulations under a key piece of decades-old legislation known as the Clean Air Act.
Under Monday’s Supreme Court ruling, the EPA’s rule will stay in effect for now, but a final decision has been kicked down to the DC Circuit Court with instructions to consider costs in the initial stage of implementation.
While many newer power plants have technology to curb toxic releases, the rules target plants that still do not capture those emissions. They affect about 600 U.S. power plants, the majority of which are fueled by coal.
“The Court has sided with the Dirty Delinquents – the small percentage of coal-fired plants that haven’t cleaned up – and against the majority that are already protecting our children from mercury and other toxic pollutants,” said Environmental Defense Fund President Fred Krupp in a statement.
“It’s critically important for our nation that these life-saving protections remain in place while EPA responds to the Court’s decision, and EDF will focus its efforts on ensuring these safeguards are intact.”
Earthjustice DC Senior Associate Attorney Neil Gormley, whose group filed a brief in support of the EPA, said the court’s ruling “doesn’t change EPA’s authority to protect the public from toxic air pollution.”
“It just gives the agency another hoop to jump through. Now EPA should act quickly to finalise these crucial health protections,” Gormley said.
Edited by Kanya D’Almeida
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