High Courts Support Air Pollution Standards

By Brian Sewell

A series of recent court rulings have supported air pollution standards proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, adding to the challenges facing utilities that rely heavily on coal.

In April, a federal appeals court upheld the EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, a rule finalized in 2011 targeting emissions of mercury and other harmful air pollutants. The EPA predicts that the standards, once implemented, could prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, and yield between $33 billion and $90 billion in economic benefits each year.

But the rule, expected to cost $9.6 billion annually, has been criticized by the coal industry and some in Congress as the “centerpiece of Obama’s war on coal” and has spent the past two years in court.

Petitioners in the case could still appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but analysts say this is unlikely. The rule is set to go into effect in April 2015, and many utilities have already announced plans to retire coal plants or invest in pollution controls to meet the standards.

Two weeks after the MATS ruling, the Supreme Court upheld the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which was created under the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” provision to address air pollution that travels across state lines, harming the health of those downwind and making it harder for certain states to meet Clean Air Act requirements.

While these rules do not apply to greenhouse gases, they use the Clean Air Act as their legal authority, just as the EPA has for its impending rule regulating carbon pollution from existing power plants. That alone, legal experts say, could help the carbon rule stick.

White House Moves On Methane Emissions and Chemical Disclosure

By Brian Sewell

The Obama administration announced a strategy in March to reduce methane emissions as its latest move to address climate change through measures that do not require congressional approval.

Under the plan, the U.S. Department of Interior will update standards to reduce methane leaks at oil and gas sites on public lands. The department also began gathering public comments in April on a program for the capture and sale of methane produced at coal mines on government-owned land.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to address landfill methane emissions and will work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reduce methane emissions from cattle farms.

Methane represents around 9 percent of greenhouse gas pollution, but it is more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Additionally, studies have found that some natural gas drilling operations emit as much as 1,000 times more methane than previously estimated and, if left unchecked, methane leaks could undercut the climate benefits of switching from coal to gas.

In May, the EPA announced that a program incentivizing companies to disclose potentially harmful fracking chemicals is also in the works.


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