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Supreme Court power plant ruling panned in New England

June 29, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A U.S. Supreme Court decision against a federal crackdown on emissions from coal-fired power plants got bad reviews Monday in New England, where westerly winds sweep in pollution from many out-of-state plants.

But several government officials and environmental group lawyers said the court’s finding — that the Environmental Protection Agency did not examine the costs of its rule early enough in its development — may just be a temporary setback in the effort to reduce pollution containing mercury and other toxins.

Vermont Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears called Monday’s decision “a serious disappointment” for a state that has had to issue advisories about limiting consumption of fish from its waters because many contain mercury.

“It’s just unfortunate that we have any mercury in this state at all, given that we have not generated it and we don’t benefit from the power that (results in) this pollution,” Mears said.

William Hinkle, a spokesman for New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, said that “for too long, New Hampshire has borne the health, environmental and economic cost of pollution caused by other states, and Governor Hassan will continue to call on upwind states to make the modest investments necessary — investments New Hampshire made long ago — to prevent their pollution from affecting our state.”

The coal-fired Merrimac power station in Bow, New Hampshire, spent $422 million on scrubbers to reduce emissions. Now Eversource Energy, the utility that owns the plant, is looking to sell off that and other generating stations.

Massachusetts took the lead among states filing briefs to support the EPA’s case in the Supreme Court. Attorney General Maura Healy said Monday, “The benefits of the (EPA) rule — which include preventing thousands of premature deaths annually and reducing exposure of pregnant women and developing fetuses to mercury — far outweigh the costs of controlling toxic power plant emissions.”

Environmental law Professor Pat Parenteau of the Vermont Law School and Greg Cunningham, the Portland, Maine-based director of the clean energy and climate program at the region-wide Conservation Law Foundation, said the court’s decision turned on a technicality that Cunningham called “fairly readily correctible by the agency.”

The chief flaw found in the 5-4 decision written by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia was that the EPA didn’t weigh costs to the industry as it first considered the rule limiting mercury and other toxins in 2000. It did cost studies in 2012 for a rule that took effect this April.

The EPA put the cost to industry of removing 90 percent of the pollutants at $9.6 billion a year. It said the benefits, among them preventing up to 11,000 deaths, 4,700 nonfatal heart attacks and 540,000 lost work days, would be worth $37 billion to $90 billion a year.

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