Environmental Protection

Justices Debate Costs and Benefits of EPA Pollution Rules

By Tony Mauro


The Obama administration’s ambitious effort to reduce power plant pollution underwent tough scrutiny Wednesday as the U.S. Supreme Court debated whether the Environment Protection Agency should have given more consideration to the costs involved in writing its regulations.


The 90-minute argument in three cases consolidated under the title Michigan v. EPA toggled between the technicalities of the Clean Air Act and a broader discussion of a regulatory scheme that the energy industry asserts will cost $9 billion a year, while creating benefits to society valued only at $6 million. The EPA and environmental groups dispute those figures.



Industry groups and 20 states sued, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the EPA’s determination as reasonable. The regulations are set to take effect in April, and some companies and power plants have already made improvements to comply—a fact that EPA defenders point to as a sign that the regulations are reasonable.


“We’re ready to finally have national standards,” Paul Smith of Jenner & Block told the court. He represented energy companies that are in compliance and hope the court will require all other companies to comply to end any competitive advantage.


“Much of the industry is already complying with this rule, the sky hasn’t fallen, and a decision invalidating it now would be highly disruptive,” said Tom Donnelly of the Constitutional Accountability Center, which filed a brief supporting the regulations.


“The EPA clean air safeguards at issue address the largest sources of the most toxic air pollutants and are thoroughly anchored in law, as evidenced by today’s arguments before the Supreme Court,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel to the  Environmental Defense Fund.


More from Environmental Protection

Environmental Protection
May 25, 2023

RELEASE: Court Rewrites Clean Water Act to Protect Private Land Development at the Expense of…Clean Water

WASHINGTON, DC – Following the Supreme Court’s announcement of its decision in Sackett v. EPA,...
By: Miriam Becker-Cohen
Environmental Protection
January 19, 2023

BLOG: Defending the Environment with Constitutional and Statutory Text and History

This Term, the Supreme Court is considering Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, an important environmental...
By: Joie Mills
Environmental Protection
June 30, 2022

U.S. Supreme Court just gave federal agencies a big reason to worry

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Thursday to block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas...
By: Brian R. Frazelle, By Alison Frankel
Environmental Protection
June 30, 2022

RELEASE: Supreme Court’s Conservatives Deal Crushing Blow to Ability of Government to Protect the Environment

“Because of this flawed, ideologically tainted ruling, the power of the national government to solve...
By: Elizabeth B. Wydra
Environmental Protection
U.S. Supreme Court

Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency

In Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court determined the proper test for ascertaining whether wetlands are “navigable waters” under the Clean Water Act.
Environmental Protection
U.S. Supreme Court

West Virginia v. Environmental Protection Agency

In West Virginia v. EPA, the Supreme Court considered whether a regulation issued by the EPA to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants was authorized by the Clean Air Act.