The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday in favor of Michigan and other Republican-led states that challenged Environmental Protection Agency rules that would reduce mercury and other air pollution from coal-fired power plants. The regulations, announced in 2011, are different from rules proposed last year to cut carbon dioxide emissions. What the decision means:
A Supreme Court majority agreed with state Attorney General Bill Schuette and said the EPA ignored a law requiring that it analyze costs before announcing regulations to cut mercury and air toxins. The Supreme Court minority who dissented said the agency did not need to consider costs at the beginning of the process because it did so later on.
Schuette, who led the legal challenge, called it a “victory for family budgets and job creation.” Michigan League of Conservation Voters Deputy Director Jack Schmitt expressed disappointment that the case originated in Michigan, saying Schuette served “Michigan’s polluters, not its people.”
The case was sent back to a lower court so the EPA can account for costs. The rules, which took effect in April, will stay intact while the case is sorted out. The regulations were intended to decrease mercury contamination in fish and people and wildlife that eat fish. Mercury can damage the human nervous system. The EPA also sought to improve visibility by targeting smog formed by sulfur dioxide.
Coal is the primary fuel for electricity in Michigan, accounting for half of what is generated. The state has two dominant utilities, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy. Jackson-based Consumers said regardless of the ruling, it will proceed with plans to retire seven of its 12 coal-fired units by April. They are located at three plants in Muskegon, near Bay City and near Monroe. Consumers Energy and DTE said despite the federal rules being left in doubt, the state still has its own comparable rules controlling mercury emissions. Consumers Energy has been installing pollution-control equipment in units that will continue operating. Detroit-based DTE, which still plans to retire two units at a plant in Trenton — one of its five coal-fired plants — said it will comply with the state’s own “stringent” mercury limits by April.
The EPA found that the costs of installing and operating equipment to remove mercury pollutants before they are dispersed into the air would total $9.6 billion a year. It said the health benefits are $37 billion to $90 billion annually from the prevention of deaths, heart attacks and lost days of work.
The ruling does not affect a separate EPA plan for reducing power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions, the leading source of greenhouse gases contributing to global warming. That proposal requires Michigan to reduce carbon output by 31.5 percent from 2012 levels. The agency plans to issue final rules this summer.
MICHIGAN ENERGY LAW
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder says the state should ramp up energy-efficiency programs and encourage the use of natural gas and renewables sources to replace coal-fired electric plants. The GOP-controlled Legislature is expected to debate a rewrite of the state energy law this fall. (AP)