Court upholds EPA air pollution rule

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Obama administration's standards for curbing mercury and toxic air pollution from power plants.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected a challenge to the rule, which was completed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2011 and set the first national limits on air pollution emitted by coal and oil-fired power plants, specifically mercury, arsenic and acid gases.

{mosads]Stallion Energy and other industry groups challenged the rule on the grounds that the EPA did not provide proper notice or time to comment on a study conducted by the agency.

Industry groups also said the EPA failed to quantify the relevant mercury emissions and associated health risk, and did not offer alternative strategies.

But the court found the EPA's designation of mercury emissions from generating units as a "threat to public health and the environment" substantively and procedurally valid.

The rule is expected to prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks every year, the agency said in its brief.

The agency cheered the ruling, calling it a victory for health and the environment.

"These practical and cost-effective standards will save thousands of lives each year, prevent heart and asthma attacks, while slashing emissions of the neurotoxin mercury, which can impair children’s ability to learn," the EPA said in a statement on Tuesday.

Green groups like the Environmental Defense Fund, which joined the EPA as a party to the case, also hailed the decision.

"Today’s legal victory is another giant step forward on the road to cleaner, healthier air,” said Fred Krupp, president of the defense fund. "The court recognized that mercury and other dangerous air toxins from coal-fired power plants are a threat to public health, and that we should all be protected from them. Now we must complete the essential work to achieve these clean air protections for our children and for all Americans.”

The ruling could provide clues as to how an appeal to the EPA's contentious carbon emissions limits for new and existing coal-fired power plants would play out.

It's a battle both industry and environmentalists are readying for as the EPA works to finalize the rules before President Obama leaves office.