Coal company: EPA climate rule is ‘expressly prohibited’ by law

One of the nation’s top coal producers is asking a federal court to overturn the Obama administration’s climate rule, calling it “double regulation” that is “contrary to law.”

The lawsuit filed by Murray Energy Corp., the United States’ largest privately held coal mining company, rests on its contention that the Environmental Protection Agency is legally prohibited from regulating carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.

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That’s because, prior to this summer’s proposed climate rule, the EPA in 2012 set limits on power plants’ mercury pollution and other air toxins, the company told the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in a late Monday filing.

In Murray’s view, the Clean Air Act, which allows the EPA to regulate air pollution, prohibits it from regulating carbon emissions from the same power plants that are subject to the mercury rules.

“By the plain terms of the Clean Air Act, as interpreted by the Supreme Court and by EPA itself, this action foreclosed EPA from mandating state-by-state emission standards for these same sources,” Murray wrote.

The company called the EPA’s proposal “expressly prohibited” and in “direct contravention” of the Clean Air Act.

Murray’s court filing is extraordinary, because courts do not have the jurisdiction to decide whether proposed regulations are legal. Instead, opponents must usually wait until an agency like the EPA makes a regulation final, as it plans to do in June.

But Murray said the circumstances of the case, such as the clear violation of the Clean Air Act, warrant the court’s intervention.

The company asked the court to “declare EPA’s legal conclusion not in accordance with law, and prohibit EPA from proceeding to mandate state-by-state emission standards for source categories already subject to” the mercury rules.

The EPA has consistently disagreed with Murray since it first announced the lawsuit in the summer.

The Obama administration asked the court in November to dismiss the case, calling it “one volley in a barrage of premature litigation trying to stop EPA from completing a rulemaking addressing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing power plants.”

Responding specifically to Murray’s filing, EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the agency is confident in the legal merits of its rule.

“History has shown us that EPA writes solid rules and they stand up in court — courts have reaffirmed our science and reasoning time and time again,” she said.

“And the Supreme Court made clear in 2007, and affirmed recently that EPA has an obligation to limit carbon pollution because it’s a harm to human health.”

Twelve states have filed a similar lawsuit against the EPA to challenge the climate rule. The court plans to hear arguments in both cases on the same day, though it has not set a hearing date.

The EPA has been ordered to respond to Murray’s brief in February.

— This story was updated at 1:20 p.m.