Did the Supreme Court just Kill Dirty Coal Plants & Save the World?

(By Juan Cole)

The Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed that the Environmental Protection Agency has the prerogative to regulate air pollution that spills across state lines. The EPA wants to force 28 states to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from their power plants. Sulfur dioxide causes acid rain and breathing problems. Nitrogen oxide causes ground-level ozone, which is a big problem in cities such as Los Angeles.

The biggest source in the US of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide is coal-burning power plants. A typical coal plant emits 14,000 tons of sulfur dioxide a year, and those plants with environmental controls still put out 7,000 tons a year of the toxic material. Coal plants without special controls put out 14,000 tons of nitrogen oxide a year. Even if they have environmental controls, they still produce 3,000 tons of the stuff a year.

Even without those two toxic substances, coal plants are a major source of carbon dioxide emissions, which are causing climate disruption and global warming.

The coal industry already lost a Federal court case it brought against the Environmental Protection Agency, which is giving coal plant owners a year to clean up their act and stop mercury emissions. (Mercury is a nerve poison and can produce brain damage). The court held that the EPA is authorized by law to regulate such matters.

The Obama administration appears to want to close down the coal plants. Coal-burning produces over 30% of the 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide the US emits every year (1.7 billion metric tons).

Coal power generation can now be replaced by a combination of wind and solar in many states. Natural gas in the US is now often produced by hydraulic fracturing, which is a big emitter of methane gas, an extreme hothouse gas, which should be forbidden lest we cook the planet.

AFP reports:

US top court upholds cross-state air pollution rule (via AFP)

President Barack Obama’s administration scored a major victory Tuesday when the US Supreme Court revived regulation limiting harmful emissions that blow across state lines. A coalition of six progressive and conservative justices clinched the 6-2 vote…

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Related video:

NewsyHub : “1,000 Coal Plants Affected By Supreme Court’s EPA Ruling”

8 Responses

  1. Coal is the immoral fuel.

    The health, environmental and some operating costs of burning coal (and all other fossil fuels and nuclear) is not included in their price – the coal industry is a freeloader.

    Even with this coal-industry accounting-fraud, solar power is quickly achieving cost-parity with coal.

    These economics, not regulation, will be the death of coal.

  2. We live in a complicated world. Headlines, anecdotes and sound bites are kind of like “vitals” your nurse collects at the start of a physician office visit. There are any number of complex conditions, including life-threatening ones, that will produce vital signs in the normal range.

    As a former EPA enforcement attorney and nasty cynic, I might note that what the Supreeemes did with this particular rule may not be a lay-down for eventual limitation of CO2 emissions. Here’s the opinion, for anyone that wants to read it: link to supremecourt.gov. Here’s a hopeful press release from one interested party: link to edf.org And here’s a comment from dailykos that captures part of the complexity:

    “This claim

    The consequences of the EPA losing this case is that ALL emitters would be regulated. As per the article:

    …is completely, 100% wrong.

    If the Supremes grant any petitioner’s request that strikes CO2e from the definition of “Regulated NSR pollutant” under 40 CFR Section 52.21(b)(50) and/or interferes with the definition of ‘subject to regulation’ under 40 CFR Sec 52.21(b)(49), then all ability to require permits and regulation that limit either the time rate or the process rate of CO2e emissions dies completely.

    Even a secondary standard for a CO2e NAAQS would be barred because an NAAQS pollutant must be able to be regulated by the Act as a pollutant before it can be published as an NAAQS.

    If my memory is correct, Rick Snyder and Rick Perry are both asking this kind of relief from the Supremes.

    Don’t make the same bullXXXX mistake that Michael Brune did by saying that granting cert to the Rick/Rick petition to the Supremes was a victory for the Sierra Club.

    Any granting of any of the petitions by the Supreme Court in the present tailoring rule case would be a disastrous outcome for the environment and a defeat for President Obama and EPA in defending decades of EPA’s historic interpretation of the Clean Air Act.

    A bad decision by the Supremes on issues raised in this comment would also create chaos like deregulating hydrogen sulfide and several other airborne toxic pollutants that are not regulated as hazardous air pollutants. Such a decision in this case could thus have the collateral consequence of rendering as federally UN-enforceable all of the hydrogen sulfide and total reduced sulfur air pollution control requirements at all plants in the United States.

    There’s been a lot of bad media interpretation of this case minimizing its consequences.

    Please don’t spread more objectionable conflations that a defeat by President Obama in the present greenhouse gas tailoring rule case before the Supreme Court would somehow be good for the environment and is a desireable thing…..because that entire line of thought is totally bogus and without any real understanding of the Clean Air Act and the contested issues and petitions in this case….

    In order for a National Ambient Air Quality (7+ / 0-)

    Standard for greenhouse gases to be published, the “air pollutant” as defined by 42 USC Sec 7602(g) must be first considered as an ‘air pollutant’ under the Act before a NAAQS standard can be published under 42 USC 7409(a).

    If a substance that was previously considered as an ‘air pollutant’ in the present case by EPA is struck from being considered as an ‘air pollutant’ as requested by the Rick/Rick petition to the Supremes and others, then no EPA rulemaking could ever proceed to set a NAAQS standard under the circumstances of an adverse decision by the Supreme Court that had the effect of striking CO2e as a pollutant.

    That’s all for me for now, Pluto….as I’ve got to get back to work tonight on a piece of red state air pollution litigation…..republicans are so skilled at warring on the Clean Air Act where-ever they rule.” link to dailykos.com

    Moreover, if the TPP and its Atlantic analog go into effect, as far as can be determined, there will be NO effective “legal/regulation” way to keep the crappers from crapping, over most of the planet. Obama is still pushing the “free trade” bulls__t cover that is part of the stealth “sell” of our human birthright to “the market…”

    • Thanks for taking the time for this post, which I think I got. But I’m an Average Joe, and it made me concentrate way too much, even as you were burning up too many of your own keystrokes, time and energy.

      If it is possible, being able to boil your perspective down to a few pithy bullet-points could go a long ways toward making it more genuinely meaningful. That is, in the sense you’ll connect with a great deal more people, any one of whom could have the direct/indirect clout to make a real difference on a given issue, in ways we cannot even imagine.

      The critical point of leverage is the ability of the Informed Guy to effectively educate others, whereby their understanding is multiplied exponentially. Naturally, I’m making a copy of this and sticking it to my own forehead….

      • Yeah, I talk too much and obviously like the sound of my own voice — but most of that post was from the link — I can’t get italics or emphasis to work reliably.

        It IS complicated: Congress delegates Commerce Clause-derived power to EPA to regulate air pollution (carefully circumscribed, with exceptions). EPA adopts air quality criteria to “protect health and the environment,” and national ambient air quality standards — NAAQS. Also National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants — NESHAPS. link to en.wikipedia.org — and acid rain (remember that?) and ozone and CFCs (remember them?) and asbestos. The country is inventoried for “attainment,” or not, of those standards. The states can apply to run the air programs, under their own regulations that EPA can approve or displace if not equivalent and no less stringent. In addition to permitting particular “sources,” from smokestacks to leaks from plant equipment to construction dust, the agencies develop plans to achieve attainment of standards. Economic considerations and “practicability” are built into regulatory considerations and rulemaking, also “Prevention of Significant Deterioration,” a no-backsliding notion.

        There’s a separate provision for interstate air pollution, what the Supreeeeemes were addressing. The opinion actually has a pretty clear exegesis of that program frame. And all the while, the lobbyists and Congress and the sneaky shits that the “conservatives” since before Reagan but mostly since that coup have put in place at all levels of the bureaucracy and enforcement structure.

        Sorry if it’s complicated — the majority opinion and the post do a pretty good job of laying out the elements, but there are many, many logical pathways that the Deciders could follow in this and so many of the chunks a bits of “the law” that we ordinary people accede to being governed by, while the rich folks, including corporate “persons,” blow it all off and do whatever they damn please… and what are you and/or we going to do about it, other than “be aware,” and “bemoan”? While the K Street/Wall Street Commandos eat us alive?

  3. One can only surmise that “Clean” Coal didn’t put enough money into the tip jar of the Best Judicial Scam Corporate Money Can Buy. They should have heeded the example set by the health insurance profiteers in regards to Obamacare to ensure that the legally-mandated profit stream wouldn’t be interrupted. Since Reagan, corporate America pays to play, or it goes away.

  4. It is dangerous to credit the Supreme Court with any good intentions let alone saving the world. If coal threatens the health of themselves and the rich they care about, they will regulate it. They will uphold for the rest of us our freedom to die quietly and nothing more. Doubtless they consulted cronies on the economic impact on their investments and decided accordingly.

    • Guess what? He, of course, could not give a crap what anyone, anyone of us progressive types especially, says about him. He’s Inside The Bubble Within The Bubble, guaranteed to sit up there and smirk as long as his sorry carcass is able and wants to. “He welcomes your hatred…” — and laughs all the way to the bank, country club, gatherings of Kleptocrats, maybe even cathedral…

      “The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.”

      Grouse all you want — these Talibanners know how to use our crying need for Legitimacy and Rule of Law and Respect For The Constitution against us, very effectively…

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