The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Obama administration’s landmark air quality rule, ruling the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not properly consider the costs of the regulation.
The rules took effect in April, but in its 5-4 ruling, the justices ruled that the EPA should have taken into account the costs to utilities and others in the power sector before even deciding whether to set limits for the toxic air pollutants it regulated in 2011, The Hill reported.
In the majority ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia concluded that the EPA “unreasonably” interpreted the Clean Air Act when it decided not to consider industry compliance costs and whether regulating the pollutants is “appropriate and necessary.”
While the agency is afforded a certain level of power to interpret the law, the court wrote, “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.”
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy joined Scalia in overturning the rule, while Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg sided with the EPA.
Writing for the minority, Kagan said the EPA properly considered costs at a later stage in the regulation, something that it has done in other rules and that the courts have allowed.
“The majority’s decision that EPA cannot take the same approach here — its micromanagement of EPA’s rulemaking, based on little more than the word ‘appropriate’ — runs counter to Congress’s allocation of authority between the Agency and the courts,” she said.
The EPA said it is reviewing the decision and will decide any next steps — including re-doing the regulation — once that process is complete.
“EPA is disappointed that the Court did not uphold the rule, but this rule was issued more than three years ago, investments have been made and most plants are already well on their way to compliance,” EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said in a statement.
Opponents of the regulation immediately cheered the ruling, while environmentalists expressed disappointment.
National Mining Association President Hal Quinn called the ruling a “vindication of common sense that is missing in much of the administration’s regulatory actions.”
“The decision effectively puts EPA on notice: reckless rulemaking that ignores the cost to consumers is unreasonable and won’t be tolerated,” he said.
Since the ruling only concerns the cost-benefit analysis, the EPA can try writing the rule again if it considers costs.
While Monday's ruling struck down a major environmental priority for President Obama, it is not a complete loss.
Most power plant operators have already either complied by shutting plants down or retrofitting them, or have made firm plans to comply.