Supreme Court Rejects the Latest Attack on Life-Saving Mercury and Air Toxics Standards

Justices Will Not Hear Request to Overturn D.C. Circuit Decision

June 13, 2016
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396,

(Washington, D.C. – June 13, 2016) The U.S. Supreme Court today rejected the latest in a long line of attacks on the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards – a historic clean air measure that is working to save lives and protect children’s health.

The Court denied certiorari – or, refused to hear –the petition in Michigan v. EPA (No. 15-1152) that could have put the Mercury Standards’ life-saving protections in jeopardy. 

“Today’s Supreme Court decision further solidifies our efforts to protect American families and communities from mercury, arsenic, acid gases and toxic pollution,” said Graham McCahan, Senior Attorney for Environmental Defense Fund, which was a party to the case. “The polluters’ case could have threatened not only the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, but also the ability of Courts of Appeal to recognize the serious practical impacts – including the impacts on human health – of their decisions and to craft their relief accordingly.”

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards set the first-ever national limits on hazardous air pollutants — including mercury, arsenic, chromium, and hydrochloric acid gas — from power plants, the largest source of those pollutants. 

When EPA wrote the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in 2011, it found that the public health benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards were up to $90 billion annually, and far exceeded compliance costs. However, in June 2015, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 in an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia that EPA should have also considered the costs in its initial, or threshold, decision to address these hazardous pollutants. EPA had considered costs later in the process when it established the resulting emissions safeguards. 

The Supreme Court remanded the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Opponents then asked both the D.C. Circuit and the Supreme Court to block the continued implementation of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Both requests were denied. 

Opponents then filed with the Supreme Court for a third time, asking the Justices to overturn the D.C. Circuit’s decision leaving the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in place on remand while EPA worked to consider costs.  If opponents had prevailed, it would have jeopardized the significant pollution reductions and health protections currently being achieved by the Mercury Standards, and could have substantially interfered with the long-accepted duties and responsibilities of lower courts in a wide range of cases.

Today, the court refused to hear that case. 

Opponents have also sued in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals over EPA’s final supplemental finding, in compliance with the Supreme Court’s directive, about the costs and benefits of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. (EDF has requested to intervene in that case as well.) EPA’s supplemental finding confirmed that the cost of compliance for the standards is eminently reasonable when considered in light of the serious public health and environmental hazards of toxic emissions from power plants. The pollutants covered by the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are dangerous to human health even in small doses — mercury causes brain damage in infants and children, metal toxics like chromium and nickel cause cancer, and acid gases cause respiratory problems.

The lawsuits continue in spite of the fact that almost every power plant in America is already in compliance with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.  And since 2011, major power companies have dramatically reduced their estimates of the costs to comply with the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, while the body of scientific evidence supporting them has been strongly affirmed. 

You can find more about the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, including all legal briefs, on EDF’s website.

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