Energy & Environment

Coal company sues EPA over power plant pollution regulation


A coal company has challenged an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power plant pollution regulation in court after the agency recently finalized changes that weaken the standards’ legal underpinnings. 

Westmoreland Mining Holdings sued the EPA in federal court in Washington, D.C., on Friday over its Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) rule, which regulates the emission of mercury and other toxins emitted from power plants. 

The Trump administration last month issued a final rule concerning the standards. The final rule did not change the Obama-era standards but did alter the cost-benefit analysis that justifies them. 

The Obama administration found in its analysis that benefits from the rule would save consumers as much as $90 billion, but the Trump administration said the rules would only save between $4 million and $6 million.

The Trump administration also argues that power producers will spend up to nearly $10 billion on adding pollution controls, so the costs will outweigh the benefits.

Critics of the changed analysis have argued that it makes the standards more vulnerable in court. 

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune accused EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler last month of “fudging the numbers to give polluters a tool to challenge MATS in court.” 

An EPA spokesperson declined to comment on the Friday lawsuit but noted in a statement to The Hill that under its changes, power plants still “must comply with the mercury emissions standards of the MATS rule, which remains fully in effect notwithstanding the revised cost-benefit analysis.”

Last month, Wheeler also pledged to defend the standards in court, saying, “We defend all of our rulemakings.”

Lawyers from the firm BakerHostetler, which is representing Westmoreland, have previously argued against what they view as “one-size-fits-all” standards in comments to the EPA. 

The Trump administration’s cost-benefit analysis differs so greatly from the Obama administration’s because it  only considered “targeted” pollutants like mercury rather than the co-benefits from reductions of additional pollutants. 

Late last year, the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board criticized the new cost-benefit calculation, saying that its recommendations “do not seem to have been taken into consideration in the published analysis.”

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