SCOTUS snaps EPA winning streak

SCOTUS snaps EPA winning streak
© Greg Nash

The Supreme Court’s rejection of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air quality regulation on Monday ends the agency’s recent winning streak at the federal courts.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the EPA’s carbon monoxide regulations under the National Ambient Air Quality Standards on April 11, 2014. Four days later, it ruled in favor of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) — the same rule the Supreme Court struck down on Monday.


Since then, the EPA won all seven of the federal cases it was party to until the Supreme Court's MATS decision.

Last June, the Supreme Court affirmed the EPA’s power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that cross state lines. Justices later declined to hear two states' challenges to the agency’s regional haze plan.

The D.C. Circuit, meanwhile, has issued a string of opinions upholding a slate of EPA clean air regulations, from emissions standards for fine particles, nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides, to its 2013 rule for gasoline refiners under the federal ethanol mandate.

The Supreme Court ended that streak on Monday when it issued a 5-4 ruling against the mercury regulations. Justices said the EPA should have considered the cost for utilities and others to comply with new mercury regulations before deciding to write them.

During an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” over the weekend, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthyRegina (Gina) McCarthyOvernight Energy: Critics accuse Interior's top lawyer of misleading Congress | Boaty McBoatface makes key climate change discovery | Outrage over Trump's order to trim science advisory panels Trump's order to trim science advisory panels sparks outrage Overnight Energy: Trump order to trim science panels sparks outrage | Greens ask watchdog to investigate Interior's records policies | EPA to allow use of pesticide harmful to bees MORE said she expected the court to affirm the mercury rule “because we did a great job on it.” Before the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on the rule in March, green groups said they were confident the agency’s winning streak would continue.

In a statement after the Supreme Court’s decision, an EPA spokeswoman cast the ruling as a narrow one focused only on cost considerations and not the agency's broader rule-making authority. 

“EPA remains committed to ensuring that appropriate standards are in place to protect the public from the significant amount of toxic emissions from coal and oil-fired electric utilities and continue reducing the toxic pollution from these facilities,” spokeswoman Melissa Harrison said.