For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

Brian Willis, (202) 675-2386,

Supreme Court Decision Threatens Public Health, Won’t Revive Big Coal

WASHINGTON - Today, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with industry challengers, and overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) historic Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which are designed to safeguard local communities against dangerous pollution from power plants. The Supreme Court’s decision reversed the Court of Appeal’s ruling in a five-to-four decision and sent the rule back to the EPA to provide an additional assessment of the costs of the standards to industry. It instructed the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to determine whether the standards will remain in place while EPA completes the required analysis.

The MATS protections, which were finalized in 2012, require coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions of toxic mercury by 91 percent and strongly curtail the emissions of other toxic pollutants, like arsenic, chromium, and hydrochloric acid gas, that are connected with a litany of health problems. These protections are largely aimed at protecting young children and expectant mothers, since exposure to mercury in the womb can lead to lifelong neurological damage and severe delays in cognitive development.

Sierra Club was among the public health, civil rights, and environmental groups who joined EPA in defending MATS against industry’s challenges in the Court of Appeals and before the Supreme Court.   

In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, Mary Anne Hitt, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign released the following statement:

“As a mother, I am appalled by the Court’s willingness to delay protections that would ensure the right of all children to grow up safe, healthy, and protected from pollution. The protections this court rejected would shield our kids from the lifelong neurological damage brought on by exposure to toxic mercury, and prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks annually.

“Practically speaking, today’s decision won’t revive the fortunes of Big Coal or slow down our nation’s transition to clean energy. Most utilities have long since made decisions about how to meet the standard. Only a few dozen coal plants are still operating today with no pollution controls for mercury and air toxics and no clear plans to install them.


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“However, this flawed decision does raise concerns for our children and pregnant women, as utilities may further delay compliance decisions, or use this as an excuse to refuse to run their pollution controls. That’s why the EPA and the Obama Administration must now quickly propose revised safeguards that restores at least the same level of protections. It’s time to act to ensure progress made in cleaning up noxious pollution isn’t stalled any further, so that children across the America can grow up safe and healthy.”

Sanjay Narayan, Sierra Club’s Managing Attorney on Mercury and Air Toxics, released the following statement:

“Congress decided more than two decades ago that no child should be born with brain damage or other neurological harm, simply because industrial polluters refuse to pay for pollution controls. But today, five justices of the Supreme Court have decided to make an exception for Big Coal -- the industry responsible for the majority of mercury, arsenic, and acid gas pollution in the United States.

“Today’s decision strikes down a rule that would save lives, providing as much as $9 in health benefits for every $1 spent by industry to clean up their toxic pollution. Even while accepting those benefits, the Court chose to give industry’s lobbyists another chance to weaken the rule, requiring EPA to address industry’s costs -- even though the Agency already did so -- and even though we know that these standards were a tremendous bargain for the American public.”

“Given the massive pollution emitted by coal- and oil-fired power plants, and the equally massive public benefits of curtailing that pollution, we expect that EPA will be able to promptly re-instate the rule, and complete the analysis demanded by the five-judge majority. In the meantime, unfortunately, the Court has placed the public at risk of unnecessary deaths, asthma attacks, and neurological damage.”


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The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the United States. It was founded on May 28, 1892 in San Francisco, California by the well-known conservationist and preservationist John Muir, who became its first president. The Sierra Club has hundreds of thousands of members in chapters located throughout the US, and is affiliated with Sierra Club Canada.

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