Photo: Señor Codo
Nearly two years ago, President Obama garnered skepticism when he turned to the Clean Air Act of 1970 – which the New York Times refers to as “the most powerful environmental law in the world” – to implement a number of landmark regulations pertaining to air pollution, mercury and carbon dioxide control.
The new laws have been consistently upheld by Supreme Court justices, and while challenges have arisen in the past, many have fallen short. Last Monday saw an abrupt end to one of those challenges. Despite appeals from a whopping 20 states, the Supreme Court decided to uphold a presidential regulation that limits mercury emissions and other pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels while the Environmental Protection Agency takes the time to revise it. The move is seen as a major step forward in the fight against climate change and further degradation of the planet’s ecosystems.
Mercury inhalation can lead to a wide range of negative symptoms, including numbness, hearing and memory loss, psychiatric distress and, in severe cases, death. Mercury pollution has also led to high levels of toxicity in fish, which poses a poison hazard when consumed by humans.
In a statement, the EPA praised the Court’s ruling not to review the case by saying, “These practical and achievable standards cut harmful pollution from power plants, saving thousands of lives each year and preventing heart and asthma attacks. Power plants are the largest source of mercury in the United States… Mercury is a neurotoxin that can damage children’s developing nervous systems, reducing their ability to think and learn. All told, for every dollar spent to make these cuts, the public is receiving up to $9 in health benefits.”
This is the second time this year the Supreme Court has struck down legal challenges to lower atmospheric standards. Three months ago, Chief Justice John Roberts declined the request of several opposing states to put the said regulations on hold so their expenses could be further evaluated. Other opponents of the rules include the National Mining Association and Peabody Energy Corp. Murray Energy Corp has also filed suit against the EPA. The argument amongst those fighting the regulations is that they would cost nearly $10 billion a year to enforce, and raise electricity bills for millions of Americans.
Those fighting for the environmental policies are refusing to back down, and the EPA has stated that while energy costs may indeed go up, the regulations remain necessary to improve environmental health.
“That finding reflects EPA’s determination that consideration of cost does not justify an alteration of its prior conclusion that regulation of hazardous emissions from power plants is ‘appropriate and necessary,’” the Obama Administration stated in related court documents.
The rule in question primarily applies to coal-burning power plants within the U.S. Several of these plants are cooperating with the ruling, and have already agreed to work in line with the set regulations.