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EPA Scores Big Win to Limit Mercury in Power Plants

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The Environmental Protection Agency took home a sweeping victory Tuesday when an appeals court upheld the agency's pollution limits for mercury and air toxics from power plants.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld EPA's rule, known as MATS, denying challenges from states, utilities and industry groups that argued the rules came out of a flawed regulatory process and illegally imposed exorbitant costs on power producers that will force dozens of power plants to shut down.

Tuesday's decision, which also shot down arguments from environmental groups that it was too weak, was the latest chapter in a saga that began during the Clinton administration. Its strict pollution control requirements will push many of the nation's oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants into retirement when it takes effect in 2015.

The court upheld EPA's decision to take into account environmental damage from the pollutants, rather than just health-based harms, when it decided to regulate. And the agency based its decision on the impacts of hazardous pollution broadly, rather than just emissions from power plants - a "commonsense approach," wrote Judge Judith Rogers, to "statutory ambiguity" that was within the bounds of EPA's discretion.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia lauded the ruling, which will keep in place a rule the agency has said 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.


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