gavelA legal challenge to the EPA’s rule limiting mercury and other toxic emissions from power plants was shot down yesterday by the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Utilities and states had argued that the rule – known as MATS – was too costly to power companies and consumers and would result in dozens of power plants being forced to close.

The panel upheld the EPA’s use of environmental damage from pollutants in addition to risks to human health in its regulatory process.

Rule takes effect in 2015

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia  said the rule, which will take effect in 2015, will eliminate 90 percent of coal-fired power plants’ mercury pollution, 88 percent of their acid gas emissions and 41 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions.

She added that the rule “will save thousands of lives each year, prevent heart and asthma attacks, while slashing emissions of the neurotoxin mercury, which can impair children’s ability to learn.”

Industry response

National Mining Association (NMA) President and CEO Hal Quinn said power plants have reduced mercury emissions by half since 2005.

"The costs of EPA's rules are significant and substantial. While EPA believed the rule would only cost the nation 10,000 MW of the nation's electricity capacity, already more than 40,000 MW of electricity capacity have been scheduled for closure because of these rules.”

Quinn added that the long winter which just ended showed that the U.S. grid reliability is at risk. "The retirement of coal power plants – due to the volume and extent of EPA rules – is making our electricity supply less diverse, less reliable and more expensive.

Environmentalists wanted more

Environmental groups like the Clean Air Task Force, which had wanted even stricter pollution limits, nonetheless cheered the ruling. Spokesperson Ann Weeks said it “upholds significant health protections for women, children, those who live near existing coal-fired power plants, and the environment due to air toxic emissions like mercury, arsenic, chromium and other metals, and acid gases.”