Supreme Court Blocks President’s Power Plant Limits

Published August 18, 2015

In June, the Supreme Court ruled the EPA unreasonably interpreted the Clean Air Act when it set limits on the emission of toxic pollutants from power plants without first considering the costs of doing so. 

Bill Schuette, attorney general for Michigan, the lead plaintiff named in the suit, Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency, said in a statement, “”Today’s ruling is a victory for family budgets and job creation in Michigan. The court agreed that we can and must find a constructive balance in protecting the environment and continuing Michigan’s economic comeback.” 

The Obama administration contends air pollutants like mercury and arsenic are associated with birth defects, cancer and other risks, especially for pregnant women and children and argues coal and oil fired power plants are the single biggest contributor to mercury contamination of rivers and lakes. The Clean Air Act directs the EPA to regulate hazardous pollutants from power plants if the regulation is found to be “appropriate and necessary” which the EPA found. 

Twenty-three states and some in the industry argued the EPA should have considered costs when making their decision on whether to regulate.

Rick Perry, former Texas governor and a 2016 presidential candidate, said in a statement: “Today’s ruling ends the false narrative that environmental protection can only be achieved through one-size-fits-all federal mandates and at the expense of economic growth — a premise that has been debunked in states like Texas, where smart regulations have proven economic opportunity and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.” 

Costs Greater than Benefits

Lawyers for Michigan and 22 other states argued the EPA’s decision to achieve $4 million to $6 million in health benefits at a cost of $9.6 billion was unreasonable. 

Jay Lehr, science director for The Heartland Institute was encouraged by the court’s ruling, although he was troubled by the narrow margin of victory in the case. 

“While it is surely welcome to have the Supreme Court finally begin to impede EPA’s over reach in attempting to stifle economic progress through unreasonable and scientifically unsupported regulations and restrictions, it is disappointing the decision was only made by a 5-4 majority,” Lehr said. 

“It means the states, industry, and all reasonable people still have a great deal of work to do to place our country back into the hands of our elected officials and away from a rogue agency that rules by fiat, with no regard for balanced scientific investigation,” he said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.