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Policy Integrity Supports Upholding of EPA Mercury and Toxic Standards

Policy Integrity welcomes the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to uphold the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) rule limiting mercury and other toxic air pollutants emitted by fossil-fuel burning power plants, which are the largest source of mercury emissions. The decision supports EPA efforts to improve our air quality and safeguard public health.

Toxic air pollutants from coal- and oil-fired power plants cause serious health problems. The benefits of the Mercury and Toxic Standards, also known as the MATS rule, are widely distributed. The standards particularly help protect minority and low income populations who suffer from asthma and other debilitating conditions more than the broader population does.

The majority opinion held that EPA had discretion under the Clean Air Act to choose whether or not to consider costs in determining what controls for toxic pollutants were “appropriate and necessary.” A dissenting opinion by Judge Kavanaugh discussed the virtues of weighing costs against benefits, citing Richard Revesz and Michael Livermore’s Retaking Rationality alongside quotes from Justice Breyer, Justice Kagan, and Professor Cass Sunstein. Though EPA technically chose not to consider costs in its “appropriate and necessary” determination—a choice that the majority upheld—we find that EPA’s Mercury and Toxic Standards were vastly cost-benefit justified, with up to $80 billion in quantified, annual net benefits. In our original comments on the rule, we encouraged EPA to weigh costs against benefits and supported the regulation as an important step toward cleaner air that would deliver massive net benefits to public health and welfare.

In January 2013, we submitted an amicus brief backing EPA on the rule and the agency’s calculations in its regulatory impact analysis and methodology used for incorporating indirect benefits and assessing significant unquantifiable benefits.