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  • By Kate Shepard

    WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court on Monday ruled against an Environmental Protection Agency regulation limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants, undermining the Obama administration's drive to cut pollution from electricity generators.

    The case looked at the EPA's regulation of mercury and other emissions from power plants under the Clean Air Act, which Republicans have attacked as a "war on coal" and an example of presidential overreach.

    The EPA interpreted the law "unreasonably" when it failed to consider the costs of compliance with the new regulations, the court ruled 5-4 in an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia.

    "EPA strayed well beyond the bounds of reasonable interpretation in concluding that cost is not a factor relevant to the appropriateness of regulating power plants," concluded the majority.

    Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, wrote a scathing dissent that argues that the EPA did consider the costs of complying with the regulations -- just not at the initial stage of determining whether or not to regulate mercury emissions in the first place.

    "Over more than a decade, EPA took costs into account at multiple stages and through multiple means as it set emissions limits for power plants," wrote Kagan. "And when making its initial 'appropriate and necessary' finding, EPA knew it would do exactly that -- knew it would thoroughly consider the cost-effectiveness of emissions standards later on."

    The majority's interpretation, Kagan argued, is "a peculiarly blinkered way for a court to assess the lawfulness of an agency’s rulemaking." MORE

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