Appeals Court Ruling Means Americans Will Breathe Less Toxic Pollutants

Apr 20, 2014 by

Think Progress

By Tom Kenworthy


CREDIT: Shutterstock

In a victory for clean air, public health, and the Obama administration, a federal appeals court has upheld Environmental Protection Agency rules requiring large power plants to reduce emissions of mercury, arsenic, and other toxic air pollutants. The court rejected claims by industry and some states that the agency should have considered the cost of the clean air rules.

Writing for a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Judge Judith W. Rogers determined that in giving the EPA the power to control hazardous air pollutants in 1990, Congress had focused more on public health and “concluded it was reasonable to make decisions without considering costs.”

One of the three appeals court judges, Brett M. Kavanaugh, broke with his colleagues and dissented on the issue of whether EPA should have considered the costs of its rules even as he concurred on other points. “In my view, it is unreasonable for EPA to exclude consideration of costs in determining whether it is ‘appropriate’ to impose significant new regulations on electric utilities,” Kavanaugh wrote. “To be sure, EPA could conclude that the benefits outweigh the costs. But the problem here is that EPA did not even consider the costs. And the costs are huge, about $9.6 billion a year – that’s billion with a b – by EPA’s own calculation.”

Though the rules established in 2011 that cover large coal- and oil-fired electric power plants will mean a $9.6 billion per year hit to the economy, the economic benefits total as much as $90 billion a year according to the EPA. The agency estimates the pollution reductions will each year prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 asthma attacks.

The ruling “is a win for children and families who deserve to have clean air to breathe,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “The mercury and air toxics standards are critical public health safeguards that reduce deadly air pollution. These standards developed by EPA will require some of the nation’s biggest polluters, coal- and oil-burning power plants, to cut emissions because they pose a significant health risk to the American people.”

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