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Should the EPA consider compliance costs when drafting regulations?

January 21, 2014

By Jeremy Quattlebaum, Student Voices staff writer

In November 2014, the Supreme Court decided to review the complaints by the electric utility industry against the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules limiting emissions of pollutants such as mercury. The nation’s highest court will look at whether the agency should first consider how much it would cost coal- and oil-fired power plants to comply with the rules.

The court’s decision to hear the case is another turn in the decades-old saga that pits the EPA, granted the power to introduce emission regulations by the Clean Air Act, against the utility companies. Thirty-seven states have taken sides in the debate.

The issue of whether the EPA can regulate toxins in power plant emissions goes back to 2007, when the state of Massachusetts, joined by 11 other states, sued the agency for not regulating carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as pollutants, even though that was part of its mandate. The Supreme Court found in favor of the states. The court declared that greenhouse gases are pollutants and that the EPA must regulate their emissions.

In June 2014, the court upheld the EPA’s regulatory power when it found that while some EPA measures overstepped its authority, the agency’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was within the constitutional authority of the executive branch.

The court ruled that the EPA can require companies and utilities to comply with the “best available control technology” that is “appropriate and necessary” to reduce greenhouse gases – meaning that if the EPA sets practical emissions goals, industries must comply, no matter the cost.

Utility companies then asked the court to review whether the EPA must consider the costs when creating regulations and whether the agency has the authority to require power companies to reduce the emissions of mercury, sulfur, and other pollutants.

A lower federal court panel ruled in favor of the agency in April. Two judges sided with the EPA, saying that the agency should look at the health and environmental effects over the costs to the industry. “For E.P.A. to focus its ‘appropriate and necessary’ determination on factors relating to public health hazards, and not industry’s objections that emission controls are costly, properly puts the horse before the cart,” Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote for the majority.

Writing the dissent, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh argued that the Clean Air Act required the agency to acknowledge the cost when creating regulations. “To be sure,” he wrote, “E.P.A. could conclude that the benefits outweigh the costs. But the problem here is that E.P.A. did not even consider the costs. And the costs are huge, about $9.6 billion a year – that’s billion with a ‘b’ – by E.P.A.’s own calculation.”

Installing scrubbers and other pollution-control devices, in addition to switching from coal to natural gas, can reduce emissions produced by power plants. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that as of 2012, nearly two-thirds of the country’s power-generating installations had appropriate pollution-control technologies.

States have lined up on both sides of the issue. Sixteen states sided with the EPA, saying that since air pollution knows no borders, its regulation is a federal issue. Twenty-one states, mainly in the South and West, sided with the utility companies, arguing that the regulations are too expensive.

What do you think?

Should the EPA consider compliance costs when deciding regulations? Should power plant emissions be regulated? Is regulation of air pollution a state or federal issue? Join the discussion and let us know what you think!
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Comments
11/7/2017
Murrieta/CA
Allyssa
Jabro/MCA
I believe the EPA shouldn't consider compliance costs during the drafting regulations. They should get involved on the issues and not just stay out and ignore it!

5/21/2015
Washington/NJ
Rob Servilio
Rokosny/Warren Hills Regional
Although it hasn't exactly turned out this way in practical application, the express purpose of the EPA as initially established by Nixon's 1970 executive order was to protect the natural environment and ensure public health. It wasn't intended to be an agency that caters to the financial needs and desires of the current entrenched big business and eases them into sustainable manufacturing and fuel efficiency. It wasn't intended to be a financial planning organization. The authority of the EPA cannot be disputed. It falls under fitting constitutional executive power in its adherence to policy passed by the legislative branch. It partially fulfills the substantive goals outlined in the Preamble of the Constitution the United States: "to promote the general welfare." Nowhere is there a provision in the text of our founding document that states that executive bodies must consider the cost to corporations in their enactment of publicly endorsed legislation. In fact, such corporations as now exist did not at the time of Founding, and their "rights," especially their right to security in polluting the natural environment, would probably have been scoffed at by Jefferson and Madison. Why should already-wealthy, established industry take prescience over small, local businesses who have tried their hardest to create environmentally friendly businesses and endured financial struggle already? These businesses should be responsible for their own actions, and it's safe to say that creating gigantic and expensive machinery and processes that inherently cause pollution falls under the umbrella of "their own actions." I think it would be best for these businesses to cease irrational demands for financial considerations from the EPA, especially when converting their processes to more efficient ones will benefit them financially in the long-term anyway.

3/5/2015
Irving/Tx
Abraham
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that the EPA should be allow to consider the compliance cost, when deciding on the regulations. However, they should find the most cost efficient equipment that will prevent the pollutants from being a hazardous problem to everyone’s daily life. The regulation of air pollution should be a state issue, because be a much easier process for states to regulate any emission producing plant within their state.

3/2/2015
Irving/Texas
Maggie
Bradley/Nimitz
Although the primary problem that should be dealt with is the issue with the green house gases as pollutants, the EPA shouldn't consider compliance cost when drafting regulations because they don't matter. Pollution is a state issue not a federal responsibility.

2/26/2015
irving/texas
jose
bradley/nimitz
i believe the EPA to not consider compliance costs when drafting regulations and get involved on this issues and not stay out

2/25/2015
Irving/Texas
Rebecca
Bradley/Nimitz
It would be entirely nonsensical for the EPA to not consider compliance costs when drafting regulations, but this does not in any way mean that the EPA ought to make compliance with regulations cheap. Clearly, for instance, the transition between environmentally detrimental energy capture methods like coal burning and more environmentally friendly methods like solar and wind power is set to be an unavoidably expensive endeavor, and if the EPA were to back off from pursuing it on the grounds of cost, it would never be achieved. Additionally, pursuant to the Clean Air Act of 1963 and its subsequent revisions, as well as later legislation like the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, the federal government has made it its own responsibility to ensure that certain levels of pollution are not exceeded. The EPA, being a means by which the government can achieve its goal of reducing pollution, thus has a responsibility to whatever possible to reach said end. And here comes the obvious parts: People’s lives matter more than money, and reduction of pollution may indeed eventually determine whether we live or die, cost notwithstanding.

1/23/2015
Irving/Tx
Chellandria
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that EPA main concern shouldn’t be compliance cost. They should be worried about the community health and how “we” are going to be healthy with the air being polluted. The cost will not even matter if no one is able to breathe clean air. Therefore, power plants shouldn’t be an option since they also release toxins. Polluting the air is state issue,because we are the people who stays in that particular state. I also in a way believe that it should be a federal issue as well, we all need to care for each others health and the earth ; we call this place home.

1/23/2015
Irving/Texas
Brittany
Bradley/Nimitz
I don't think that the EPA should consider compliance costs when determining regulations. Doing so would cause monetary gains to take priority over the health and well-being of the US population. Power plants emissions should be strictly regulated not only because they account for high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, but also because it would help to crack down on the US's air pollution problem. Regulation of air pollution should be considered a federal issue because all states need to be concerned with the negative health effects caused by unclean air.

1/23/2015
Irving/TX
Sajni
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that the regulation of green house gases and Power plants should be much more important then compliance costs. Ultimately it is up to us to keep this world healthy for the safety of our future children, so what if companies are losing money. If a company can not keep up with cost they should not be in business.

1/23/2015
Irving,TX
Hans
Bradley/Nimitz
I’ve always held the belief that the longevity of our planet is vastly more important than companies lining their pockets. The regulation of Power plants should be of the utmost concern and while compliance costs could very well put companies in a bad position, it’s a small price to pay for cleaner air that we all as a species breath. Additionally I believe the preservation of our clean air should be a Federal issue as it affects all of us within the United States. If one state is pumping out noxious fumes others will eventually suffer the effects. What’s the worst case scenario for charging high compliance costs? A company can’t afford the fee and is put out of business affecting all those affiliated with the company. A devastating event but not as much as green house gases killing our planet. It’s a long term versus short term issue and the long term benefits of restricting Power plants outweighs a company's well being.

1/23/2015
Irving, TX
Bryan
Bradley/Nimitz
I absolutely believe that the EPA consider compliance costs when drafting regulations.It'll be all about money when the Supreme Court weighs U.S. EPA's rules for curbing power plants' emissions of mercury and other toxics. The justices last week agreed to consider whether EPA should have taken into account compliance costs before proceeding with the regulations.It's a major challenge to EPA's mercury and air toxics standards, or MATS, a landmark environmental rule of President Obama's first term -- and one of the most expensive regulations ever. Its price tag: an EPA-estimated $9.6 billion a year. The case is the fourth time the court has reviewed a regulation in which EPA's cost analysis was the main issue.

1/23/2015
Irving, TX
Carol
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that the EPA should definitely take into value the cost-benefit analysis when deciding regulations. The EPA only considers the possible benefits but completely disregards the cost, $9.6 billion by their own calculations. This complete loss of money could push the business into bankruptcy and ultimately the shutdown of the company. Power plant emissions should be regulated, but to a certain extent. We have to put into account the fact that, yes the quality of life for our children will be okay, but the quality of life for us, in the present may not. To force a company to comply with the EPA’s restrictions is to possibly force millions of Americans out a job. This not only destroys the economy and unemployment, but also our children’s lives. Regulation of air pollution is definitely a federal issue. In order to reduce emissions and increase the quality of life for all we have to work together or he efforts are all for naught.

1/23/2015
Irving/Texas
Brian
Bradley/Nimitz
Compliance costs should be omitted from the EPA’s process of determining regulation, for one, because placing monetary gains for individual firms over the well-being of the entire nation(pollution affects everyone) undermines the entire environmental progress of the nation; however, more importantly, despite the pollution-emitting industries “losing money” by being forced to limit emissions, there is not actually a loss in aggregate money spent because the negative externalities produced by the firm were previously not accounted for with the explicit costs. The “9.6 billion” Judge Kavanaugh lamented about is actually what the companies would be paying anyways if they were required to pay their true social costs(private plus social cost). Their drop in profit is in this case a cost of production, so having the EPA limit emission goals to satisfy emission-producing firms would be counterproductive. As for power plants, they should have their emissions regulated as well because pollution and overuse is a very serious issue that plagues the environment as well as to the economy(see M. King Hubbert’s theory on peak oil). Although most emission regulations were passed during the Carter administration, the earliest was passed in the 1960s(aside from one in the 1930s)--this trend has no reason to falter now--power plant emissions need to be regulated or we are the ones who will suffer in the long run(i.e. true social costs/global warming).

1/22/2015
Irving/TX
Cynthia
Bradley/Nimitz
In my opinion, the EPA should not consider compliance costs when deciding regulations, the primary focus should be on the well being of the people on Earth. If the EPA were to consider costs over protecting the health of human beings, then the agency would be violating their purpose. Power plant emissions should be regulated to prevent even further damage to their air, like Judge Judith W. Rogers said, “For E.P.A. to focus its ‘appropriate and necessary’ determination on factors relating to public health hazards, and not industry’s objections that emission controls are costly, properly puts the horse before the cart,” it’s important to take care of our environment because it will take care of the human population, which we obviously need to even have these power plants in the first place. Regulation of air pollution is a federal issue because in order to have clean air, we need the nations effort which will help prevent hundreds of thousands of cases of serious health effects each year.

1/22/2015
Irving/Texas
Jamon
Bradley/Nimitz
My belief is that the Environmental Protection Agency also known as the EPA should not consider compliance costs when deciding regulations and here is why I say that; the EPA was established to protect people’s health let alone the environment of earth like that should be the prime objective in helping humans as well as mother nature. If they were to allow themselves to be corrupted by thinking or, taking into consideration of the compliance cost ,then they can’t really help us now can they i mean the protection of ones health is essentially important regardless of how much compensation you have to pay for the regulations.

1/22/2015
Irving/Texas
Rabab
Bradley/Nimitz
I think the EPA should not consider compliance costs when deciding regulations because the health of people is more important than the cost, although the Clean Air Act says that EPA should consider cost but greenhouse gases are pollutants and can be effective to human health. I understand the cost is extremely high but not more than the human health. I believe that at first EPA should regulate the emissions of gases and then consider the cost and find out a solution for it. I think the regulation of air pollution is a federal issue.

1/22/2015
Irving/Texas
Kamille
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that the cost is not the EPA’s main concern when deciding how to regulate the air pollution of these utility companies. It is a dispute between the moral and immoral action to take. Pollution has a detrimental effect on the environment and the utility companies seem to deny this. There should not be a price on the health of people and if the EPA was to take the cost into consideration it would not be fulfilling its duty in justly serving the public. The EPA was formed to protect the American people as well as the environment with laws and regulations to ensure safety. Because the utility companies are so focused on the amount of money it would take to follow the laws of air pollution, it is safe to say they’re priorities do not lie in favor of the environment. Greed is guiding their moral compass and it is the EPA’s job to steer them in the right direction.

1/22/2015
Irving/Texas
Dana
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that the EPA should consider compliance costs when drafting regulations on emissions of pollutants. The regulation of pollutants is important for the well being of citizens, but the 9.6 billion dollar cost involved to make these changes could negatively affect citizens as well. You have to think where the utilities companies will get the extra 9.6 billion involved in reducing pollutants. Cutting workers or perhaps even increasing costs either way it could present problems that would affect citizens lifestyle negatively too. If the EPA would consider finding a more economical solution to the emissions of pollutants both the EPA and the utility companies could be pleased. Regulating air pollution is, in my opinion, a federal issue because the safety of our air and population is not a decision that should differ from state to state. Power plant emissions should be regulated to maintain a safe environment to live, but you must also keep in mind how the economy might be affected if the EPA does not consider the price included in regulating pollution.

1/22/2015
Irving/Texas
Eddie
Bradley/Nimitz
The EPA should not consider cost of compliance when writing regulations, “The EPA was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress” if they were to consider the cost of compliance then it would only hinder their ability to protect the people and the environment. Putting a Price on the safety of the environment and the health of the American people would be assigning a value to a priceless amenity. Giving leeway to companies or individuals in the form of cost sensitive laws would only hurt ourselves and our future generations.

1/22/2015
Irving/Texas
David
Bradley/Nimitz
I believe that the EPA should consider compliance costs when deciding regulations on air pollutants. Although the main concern is to regulate the air pollution and emissions these utility companies are putting out, the EPA should keep in mind that these utility companies are also businesses trying to function properly without losing out on tons of money, especially at a rate of around $9.6 billion a year. Power plant emissions should be regulated regardless of price in terms of a moral approach for the global environment, but there is an extent to which the price on such regulation and control should be cut off. Regulation of air pollution should be a federal issue, even though one of the panels decided in a state court. If states want to take their own stances on the issue then they have all the right to, but it is an overall national effort to make the world’s air safe and clean, especially if the EPA, a federal agency, has the authority to mandate it.

1/21/2015
Irving/Texas
Ali
Ms.Bradley/Nimitz
For the EPA to be legally bound to consider the cost of something as significant as green house gas emissions, will handicap the EPA’s authority and ability to properly do their job. Slashing harmful emission rates of utility companies will require intensive capital for businesses, however these regulations are high priority considering the reality that 2014 had the warmest global temperature in history. Power plant emissions fall into the energy supply category, therefore contribute the largest amount of global greenhouse gas emissions, thus they should be the most strictly regulated. Air pollution will not be as strictly enforced unless considered a federal issue.

1/21/2015
Irving/Texas
Jennipher
Bradley/Nimitz
According to the Clean Air Act the EPA should consider compliance costs when deciding regulations but in my opinion the health and safety hazards that are presented to the public are a much bigger focus point than that of the potential costs of defusing the levels of pollution. Although the costs of regulating power plant emissions may be high it is a sacrifice that we must make in order to guard the people that are also protected by the laws upheld by the government and its affiliates. Power plant emissions should be regulated to some degree in order to keep the utility companies from having the power to choose whether or not their pollution is too much or not enough. In my opinion regulation of air pollution is a federal issue because in order to maintain a strong sense of unity in our country we must all follow the same guidelines; if we let states choose their own modes of regulation we may end up with fifty different plans of action. This could then lead to discontent between states which would be a much larger problem than that of utility companies having to worry over regulation costs.

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