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Supreme Court to Hear Challenge to EPA Clean Power Rules

Last week the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge brought by 21 states and other opponents of the Environmental Protection Agency plan to cut toxic chemicals from point source emitters such as large power plants. The court will decide if the EPA improperly adopted regulations requiring power plants to reduce emissions without first determining how much it would cost.

Laying the groundwork for these regulations began under Clinton, was stalled by Bush, and resumed by Obama. In short, the concept of and political desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not new, but with each passing decade, the cost to do so increases exponentially.

The EPA rules were finalized in 2012. Power plants were given until April 2015 to begin compliance with the new standards, and could receive extensions as long as two years.

The argument is not about the timeline, but rather the cost. Opponents claim that the costs, estimated at $9.6 billion, far exceed the benefits attributable to the reductions in emissions.

Pennsylvania did not sign onto the lawsuit, as the Corbett administration opted to express its concerns about the plan through EPAs public comment period rather than through litigation. Pennsylvania ranks fourth in coal production and third in overall energy production.

The federal appeals court in Washington sided with the EPA in April. Two of the three judges on the appellate panel said that the EPA properly looked only at health risks, not compliance costs. But the agency did factor in costs and benefits at the next step, when it wrote the standards that the plants must meet, the court said.

The Supreme Court wants to know if the EPA unreasonably refused to consider costs up front and will hear arguments in late March with a decision expected by the end of June.