Wyoming, the nation's leading coal-producer, joined 20 other states pressing arguments Wednesday before the U.S. Supreme Court against federal regulations that would cut the amounts of mercury and other pollutants that can be emitted by power plants.
The states and industry groups say the EPA failed to consider the issue of cost involving the new standards requiring a 90 percent reduction in toxic emissions. The groups say it would cost $9.6 billion a year to meet the new standards.
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The EPA says the benefits of the regulations could reach $90 billion annually by preventing as many as 11,000 deaths and other health problems.
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette represented the states challenging the regulations. Mike McGrady, senior assistant Wyoming attorney general, said no one from that office attended the arguments.
McGrady said the direct health benefits from cutting mercury emissions amount to no more than $6 million. He said the amount reflects the health benefits of reducing mercury levels in fish that people eat.
He said the billions of dollars in other projected health benefits would come from the incidental removal of other microscopic dust and particulate matter from plant emissions.
"In this instance, the $9.6 billion cost of the proposed regulations far outweighs the $4 to $6 million benefit," McGrady said. "That makes EPA's decision unreasonable."
Chief Justice John Roberts seemed to side with the states challenging the EPA rule. He said that including the incidental benefits of reducing particulate emissions amounted to an "end run" around more stringent procedures that EPA would have to follow if it set out directly to reduce particulate emissions.
Wyoming's challenge to the mercury regulations is among a number of legal actions the state is pressing against the EPA.
Wyoming is also among the states backing a federal lawsuit led by West Virginia challenging the EPA's proposal to require existing power plants to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The case is set for arguments next month in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in December saying the agency's carbon proposal would cut the demand for coal and drive up costs by requiring more electricity production from natural gas and other sources.
"Wyoming supplies 40 percent of the coal used in the United States — distributed to some 30 states annually," Mead wrote. "The mining industry employs — directly and indirectly — thousands of people in Wyoming."
The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority last week released an economic study that concluded pending federal regulations could force a decline of up to 45 percent in the state's Powder River Basin coal production by 2030 under certain scenarios.
Speaking in his inaugural address in January after he was sworn in for his second term, Mead said he intends to fight for continued coal production and against federal overreach.