Supreme Court Rejects State Attorneys General Attack on Life-Saving Mercury Standards

Statement of EDF General Counsel Vickie Patton

March 3, 2016
Keith Gaby, 202-572-3336,

Today, Chief Justice John Roberts denied an emergency application filed by Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and allied Attorneys General to “stay” our nation’s landmark limits on toxic pollution from power plant smokestacks. The request for an emergency stay follows on the heels of the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 decision to grant a highly unusual emergency stay of the Clean Power Plan. It also follows news of a disastrous health crisis in Michigan because of lead-contaminated drinking water in Flint. Both lead and mercury are highly toxic and linked to brain damage in children.

Yesterday, EDF and 15 states, the District of Columbia, the cities of New York, Chicago and Baltimore, the NAACP, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Lung Association, the American Nurses Association, and many others vigorously opposed the stay application.

“We call on the state Attorneys General to end the litigation on these lifesaving rules and to protect our children from the poisons in our air and water. The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards are safeguarding millions of American children from poisons such as mercury, arsenic and acid gases,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel for EDF, which is a party to the case. “While the children of Flint were being poisoned by lead in drinking water, the Michigan Attorney General was using hard-earned tax payer dollars to try to block our nation’s first-ever and long overdue limits on the air toxics discharged by coal plants.”

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards set the first-ever national limits on hazardous air pollutants from power plants, including mercury, arsenic, chromium, and hydrochloric acid gas. Power plants are our nation’s single largest source of those pollutants, which are dangerous to human health even in small doses – mercury causes brain damage in children, metal toxics like chromium and nickel cause cancer, and acid gases cause respiratory problems.

Last June, a sharply divided Supreme Court remanded the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards to the D.C. Circuit Court. The Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must consider the costs of regulation in making its threshold determination whether it is “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollution from power plants.

EPA issued a proposed supplemental finding, considering costs through a range of different assessments, that it is “appropriate and necessary” to establish emissions standards for these toxic contaminants, and has indicated that its proposed supplemental finding will be completed by mid-April. Despite the fact that EPA will complete its finding in just a few weeks, a group of states led by the Attorney General of Michigan asked the Supreme Court for an emergency stay of the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards last week. 

The D.C. Circuit Court unanimously rejected requests for a stay in December.

You can find more about the history of the case and all the legal briefs on EDF’s website.

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