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Pa. impact may be ‘minimal’ as Supreme Court overturns EPA’s mercury rule

The U.S. Supreme Court today said that federal regulators failed to properly consider the costs of a rule widely blamed for the shuttering of numerous coal-fired power plants nationwide, including several in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In a 5-4 decision, the judges ruled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had unreasonably interpreted the Clean Air Act when it deemed that compliance costs of $9.6 billion a year were irrelevant in its decision to regulate power plants.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, agreed with a coalition of energy companies and nearly two dozen states who argued the law required EPA to consider costs when deciding whether a regulation is “appropriate and necessary.”

The rule, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, targeted plant emissions of mercury and other harmful air pollutants. The EPA had estimated the health benefits at $37 billion to $90 billion annually, calculated from the prevention of up to 11,000 deaths, 4,700 nonfatal heart attacks, 130,000 asthma cases and 540,000 lost days of work.

The court’s ruling was considered by analysts as largely symbolic and is expected to have little effect on current mix of power generation. The rule was finalized in December 2011 and entered a three-year compliance period in April 2012. Because most coal plants were subject to comply with the rule by April 16 of this year, many of the plants have already closed.

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