EPA Chief Says She's Not Worried About Supreme Court Mercury Ruling

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 07:  EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks during a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 07: EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy speaks during a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor July 7, 2015 in Washington, DC. McCarthy spoke about the recent Supreme Court decision regarding Coal fired power plants and U.S. energy and climate policy. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy said Tuesday that she's not worried about last week's Supreme Court ruling against the agency's rules limiting mercury and air toxic emissions from power plants.

The ruling was "very narrow," McCarthy said at an event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. She added that she did not believe it had wider implications for the rest of the Obama administration's plans to crack down on power plant emissions.

The Supreme Court ruled that the agency had not appropriately considered the costs of its 2011 rule limiting the emission of mercury and other air toxics from power plants. The decision sends the rule back to the D.C. Circuit Court, which will decide whether it will stay in place while the EPA evaluates its costs to comply with the higher court's ruling, or if the agency will have to take additional steps before a rule can proceed.

The mercury rule, she said, is still in effect while the agency awaits direction from the circuit court. McCarthy pointed out that the majority of power plants -- 70 percent, according to agency estimates -- have already invested in technology to reduce their emissions. "We are well on our way to delivering the reductions in toxic air pollution that people expected," said McCarthy.

She also said the agency is not concerned that the ruling would affect the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, a separate pair of rules that address greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants. Those rules are expected to be finalized this summer. "Everyone knows we're looking at costs from the get-go" for those rules, said McCarthy.

The mercury ruling "hinged on a very narrow provision in the law," McCarthy said. "It doesn't impact other rules and programs that deal with other types of pollution under the Clean Air Act. Those things are not impacted and will continue."

McCarthy said she wasn't concerned about Republican governors, such as Scott Walker of Wisconsin or Mike Pence of Indiana, who have indicated their states won't comply with the greenhouse gas rules as they are currently drafted. Nor is she particularly worried about lawsuits challenging the plan.

"We certainly know how to defend lawsuits, for crying out loud," said McCarthy. "The Clean Power Plan will absolutely be litigated. Is there a single rule we've talked about that is not going to be? We're very good at writing rules and defending them, and this is no exception."

The finalized rules will be released later this summer, and will include changes in response to the 4.3 million comments the agency received.

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