Reg Watch: Court nixes challenge to pollution rule

The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a major copper company’s plea to review an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air pollution rule that set standards for sulfur dioxide (SO2), a pollutant tied to several respiratory ailments.

The justices denied Asarco LLC’s request to review an appellate court decision that upheld EPA’s 2010 regulation, which had drawn challenges from several states, companies and industry groups.

Asarco, which operates a major copper smelter in Arizona, in October asked the high court to review whether EPA illegally set a standard — 75 parts per billion over one hour — that it calls overly stringent.

The company had alleged that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit failed to properly restrain EPA’s discretion in setting the exposure standard for SO2.

“The question thus presented is: Whether the court below erred by concluding that EPA’s authority to include an adequate margin of safety allowed the court to avoid determining whether the revised sulfur dioxide national ambient air quality standard was more stringent than is necessary to protect public health,” Asarco’s petition for Supreme Court review stated.

The company claimed that EPA’s rule would force the nation’s industries to incur “enormous expense.”

The Supreme Court rejected the certiorari petition without comment Tuesday.

EPA has said the rule will bring major benefits.

“EPA estimates that the revised standard will yield health benefits valued between $13 billion and $33 billion, including reduced hospital admissions, emergency room visits, work days lost due to illness, and cases of aggravated asthma and chronic bronchitis, among other benefits,” the agency said in a 2010 summary of the standards.

The National Consumers League (NCL) on Tuesday lauded the Labor Department for the agency’s issuance of new regulations strengthening the government’s hand to enforce safety standards at the nation’s mines.

The rule, unveiled last week by the agency’s Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), comes in response to a 2010 explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine, which killed 29 men. The blast was the worst mining disaster in 40 years.

In the explosion’s aftermath, MSHA issued a scathing report finding that Massey systematically violated health and safety rules that, if followed, could have prevented the deaths.

Under the new regulations, MSHA can more easily crack down on mine operators with patterns of violating health and safety violations.

“It is gratifying to have MSHA tighten its reins on mine operators and hold them accountable,” NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg said in a written statement. The rule will take effect on March 25.

CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU. A leading Senate Republican is pressing housing regulators to avoid developing rules that could constrain private-sector lending, stalling the housing market’s recovery.

Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerBannon: McConnell 'picking up his game' because of our 'insurgent movement' State Dept. spokeswoman acknowledges 'morale issue' The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (R-Tenn.), a member of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, urged federal regulators to “simplify and synchronize” underwriting standards for new mortgage lending rules that could permanently push the private sector out of the housing finance business, he said in a letter sent on Tuesday.

Specifically, he said that if federal regulators write qualified residential mortgage (QRM) rules that differ from the qualified mortgage (QM) rules recently established by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the government would retain its dominance in the mortgage market.

“Matching CFPB’s version of a safe loan for any borrower with your definition of what constitutes a loan that is safe for securitization makes sense for our system, and it would be wholly consistent with the statute,” Corker wrote in his letter to six government housing regulators.

“Forcing lenders to comply with two separate sets of rules isn’t good policy, and in this case, it would set back the timetable on doing what we absolutely must do: begin to move away from a complete dependence on the government for mortgage credit in our country,” Corker said.

— Ben Geman, Ben Goad and Vicki Needham