Comment Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee, On The Supreme Court’s Decision in Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency Blocking Environmental Protection Agency’s Regulation of Toxic Pollutants from Coal-Fired Power Plants

“In this narrow decision, the Supreme Court has again sided with corporate interests over the health of millions of Americans.  While a rule by the EPA to curb these emissions was entirely consistent with Congress’ mandate, the Court decided that the EPA should have taken companies’ compliance costs into account before deciding it was ‘necessary and appropriate’ to limit these toxic pollutants.  There can be nothing more ‘necessary and appropriate’ than curbing poisonous pollutants that the EPA estimates are responsible for thousands of early deaths, and tens of thousands more illnesses each year.  Vermont suffers disproportionately from harmful toxins, which drift in from other states, polluting our air and poisoning our water.  Due to airborne out-of-state mercury contamination, large game fish in every body of water in Vermont, including Lake Champlain, are considered unsafe to eat very often, and are especially dangerous to children and pregnant women.  We see this all over the country.  Unfortunately, for now the Court has ignored this reality, letting corporate profits trump the public’s health.”

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BACKGROUND: The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision Monday, invalidated the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation limiting mercury and other toxic chemical pollution emitted by coal and oil-powered electric plants.  The EPA’s regulation was made in accordance with the Clean Air Act’s requirement to study the public health effects of emissions from electric power plants to determine whether it is “necessary and appropriate” for the agency to regulate the emissions.  Despite this clear instruction, the Court sided with energy companies, which claimed that the EPA was required to take into account the financial cost any regulation would impose on industry at the initial stage of determining whether it was “necessary and appropriate” to issue a rule.  The EPA had repeatedly considered compliance costs, but not at the threshold stage of whether to regulate these harmful toxins.  In her dissent, Justice Kagan called the Court’s opinion “a decision that deprives the American public of the pollution control measures that the responsible Agency, acting well within its delegated authority, found would save many, many lives.”

As the latest State of the Lake Report to be published Tuesday by the Lake Champlain Basin Program will clearly show, mercury contamination remains a serious problem in Vermont and New York waters.  Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has long led in Congress on mercury pollution issues.  He has pointed out that much of the mercury deposited “downwind” in Vermont originates in coal-fired power plants in the Midwest.  He was a leader in addressing acid rain in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990.  He later introduced legislation to limit mercury emissions and supported earlier EPA initiatives to enforce new source review standards and to order other limits on these emissions.  He also has secured funding to keep the longest-running mercury air monitoring station operating in Underhill, Vt., to improve ongoing mercury monitoring in Vermont.

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