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Supreme Court Ties EPA's Hands, Forbidding Emissions Rules

Monday, June 29, 2015 By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Op-Ed
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Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky., June 2, 2014. The Supreme Court on June 29, 2015, blocked one of the Obama administration’s most ambitious environmental initiatives, one meant to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. Industry groups and some 20 states challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to regulate the emissions, saying the agency had failed to take into account the punishing costs its regulations would impose. (Luke Sharrett/The New York Times)Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Kentucky, June 2, 2014. The Supreme Court on June 29, 2015, blocked one of the Obama administration's most ambitious environmental initiatives, one meant to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. (Luke Sharrett/The New York Times)

Do you want media that's accountable to YOU, not to corporate sponsors? Help publish journalism with real integrity and independence - click here to donate to Truthout!

Given that 2015 is already on a trajectory to become the hottest year on record, and recent studies revealed the "imminent" collapse of the Larsen B and Larsen C ice sheets in Antarctica, today's US Supreme Court ruling against Environmental Protection Agency pollution rules for power plants is alarming, to say the least.

The pace of human-caused climate disruption is accelerating by the day. One would think that, if those in power had any hope of mitigating the impacts of our super-saturation of the planet's atmosphere with record levels of CO2, the EPA's attempts to curb power plant emissions would be given priority.

To see more stories like this, visit "Planet or Profit?"

For the record, the EPA rules meant to regulate hazardous air pollution and mercury releases from coal- and oil-fired power plants were not exactly strict. Given that industrial civilization is in the process of literally pushing record numbers of species - possibly even our own - into extinction, "lowering" pollution levels emitted from power plants is no miracle solution. Shutting down the polluters entirely and mandating renewable energy on a global level might seem a little more appropriate.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court neglected to affirm even the tepid EPA rules. The court voted 5-4 against the EPA, in a decision that prevents the agency from enacting new rules aimed at reducing the amount of dangerous mercury and other toxic pollutants in the air over the United States. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the fossil fuel industry on this one, writing, "EPA must consider cost - including cost of compliance - before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary. It will be up to the agency to decide (as always, within the limits of reasonable interpretation) how to account for cost."

Hence, by Scalia's logic (and, of course, that of the fossil fuel industry), the only "cost" that matters in terms of power plants is how their bottom line might be impacted. Other "costs," like the fact that the summer ice pack in the Arctic will likely begin seeing ice-free periods starting as soon as next summer, or that planetary species are going extinct at rates beyond those of the "Great Dying" Permian Mass Extinction event, which wiped out over 90 percent of life on earth, are clearly not as important.

Instead, the country's utility industry argued, and will continue to argue, EPA rules meant to regulate their pollutants cost them too much money. The industry, now backed by the US Supreme Court, believes that any regulations over hazardous air pollution belching out of power plants are no longer "appropriate and necessary."

Perhaps the next question for the fossil fuel industry and the US Supreme Court will be this: When Miami is underwater from sea level rise, California can no longer grow fruit and vegetables due to its mega-drought, and interstate water battles over what is left of the drying Colorado River plague the Southwest, will regulating pollutants then become "appropriate and necessary?"

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.

His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon.

Dahr Jamail is also the author of the book, The End of Ice, forthcoming from The New Press. He lives and works in Washington State.

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Supreme Court Ties EPA's Hands, Forbidding Emissions Rules

Monday, June 29, 2015 By Dahr Jamail, Truthout | Op-Ed
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Ky., June 2, 2014. The Supreme Court on June 29, 2015, blocked one of the Obama administration’s most ambitious environmental initiatives, one meant to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. Industry groups and some 20 states challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to regulate the emissions, saying the agency had failed to take into account the punishing costs its regulations would impose. (Luke Sharrett/The New York Times)Emissions from a coal-fired power plant drift skyward in Ghent, Kentucky, June 2, 2014. The Supreme Court on June 29, 2015, blocked one of the Obama administration's most ambitious environmental initiatives, one meant to limit emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants. (Luke Sharrett/The New York Times)

Do you want media that's accountable to YOU, not to corporate sponsors? Help publish journalism with real integrity and independence - click here to donate to Truthout!

Given that 2015 is already on a trajectory to become the hottest year on record, and recent studies revealed the "imminent" collapse of the Larsen B and Larsen C ice sheets in Antarctica, today's US Supreme Court ruling against Environmental Protection Agency pollution rules for power plants is alarming, to say the least.

The pace of human-caused climate disruption is accelerating by the day. One would think that, if those in power had any hope of mitigating the impacts of our super-saturation of the planet's atmosphere with record levels of CO2, the EPA's attempts to curb power plant emissions would be given priority.

To see more stories like this, visit "Planet or Profit?"

For the record, the EPA rules meant to regulate hazardous air pollution and mercury releases from coal- and oil-fired power plants were not exactly strict. Given that industrial civilization is in the process of literally pushing record numbers of species - possibly even our own - into extinction, "lowering" pollution levels emitted from power plants is no miracle solution. Shutting down the polluters entirely and mandating renewable energy on a global level might seem a little more appropriate.

Nevertheless, the Supreme Court neglected to affirm even the tepid EPA rules. The court voted 5-4 against the EPA, in a decision that prevents the agency from enacting new rules aimed at reducing the amount of dangerous mercury and other toxic pollutants in the air over the United States. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with the fossil fuel industry on this one, writing, "EPA must consider cost - including cost of compliance - before deciding whether regulation is appropriate and necessary. It will be up to the agency to decide (as always, within the limits of reasonable interpretation) how to account for cost."

Hence, by Scalia's logic (and, of course, that of the fossil fuel industry), the only "cost" that matters in terms of power plants is how their bottom line might be impacted. Other "costs," like the fact that the summer ice pack in the Arctic will likely begin seeing ice-free periods starting as soon as next summer, or that planetary species are going extinct at rates beyond those of the "Great Dying" Permian Mass Extinction event, which wiped out over 90 percent of life on earth, are clearly not as important.

Instead, the country's utility industry argued, and will continue to argue, EPA rules meant to regulate their pollutants cost them too much money. The industry, now backed by the US Supreme Court, believes that any regulations over hazardous air pollution belching out of power plants are no longer "appropriate and necessary."

Perhaps the next question for the fossil fuel industry and the US Supreme Court will be this: When Miami is underwater from sea level rise, California can no longer grow fruit and vegetables due to its mega-drought, and interstate water battles over what is left of the drying Colorado River plague the Southwest, will regulating pollutants then become "appropriate and necessary?"

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Dahr Jamail

Dahr Jamail, a Truthout staff reporter, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from Iraq for more than a year, as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last 10 years, and has won the Martha Gellhorn Award for Investigative Journalism, among other awards.

His third book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with William Rivers Pitt, is available now on Amazon.

Dahr Jamail is also the author of the book, The End of Ice, forthcoming from The New Press. He lives and works in Washington State.