Friday, February 08, 2008

Court Strikes Down EPA Clean Air Mercury Rule

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the EPA violated the Clean Air Act by attempting to implement the 2005 Bush administration Clean Air Mercury Rule that would have allowed a cap-and-trade program to reduce mercury emissions at electricity power plants. The court ruling strikes down the rule and means that big coal-burning utilities will have to install expensive mercury-reduction equipment at more of their power plants rather than rely on a fleet-wide trading program.

UPDATE (March 26, 2008): The Bush Administration has appealed the court ruling that struck down the U.S. EPA's mercury cap-and-trade plan. The earlier ruling by a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals found the EPA violated the Clean Air Act when it enacted the mercury rule in 2005.

The Center opposed the Clean Air Mercury Rule because we knew it would lose in court. We supported the Clear Skies Initiative, which failed in Congress that would have mandated the Clean Air Mercury Rule. Without the law, we knew this attempt to implement the failed legislation at the regulatory level would fail. Now it could be years before the EPA can enact new rules on mercury.

The three-judge court unanimously ruled on Feb 8 that the government failed to consider the effect on public health and the environment. Mercury from power plants can contaminate seafood and can damage the developing brains of fetuses and young children. A "cap-and-trade" program allows power plants that fail to meet emission targets to buy credits from plants that did, rather than having to install their own mercury emissions controls. The rule was to go into effect in 2010 and would have required utilities to comply with overall limits that would reduce nationwide emissions by 70 percent by 2018. The nation's 1,100 coal-burning units emit about 48 tons of mercury each year, the largest unregulated U.S. source. The EPA rule vacated by the court would have set the cap at 38 tons per year by 2010 and 15 tons per year in 2018.

Seventeen states argued that the cap-and-trade system would endanger children near some power plants that pollute but use credits to do it legally. The states included New Jersey, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin. (Reuters) (AP)

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