The U.S. Supreme Court, by declining to act, gave the White House a rare but important environmental victory on Monday.
The court declined to take up an appeal by 20 states to block regulations limiting the emissions of harmful pollutants that are by-products of burning coal. This follows a March decision by the Court to put a stay on the administration's Clean Power Plan that prevented any enforcement of carbon standards until all court proceedings are complete.
While the two decisions — one pro-environment, one anti-environment — seem contradictory on the surface, the Monday ruling is in keeping with the Court's apparent determination to get all the various court cases related to clean air issues resolved. The Environmental Protection Agency's argument for maintaining those rules was airtight as well.
The case that mercury is a dangerous chemical is also airtight. It is a neurotoxin that harms hearts and lungs and can damage the nervous systems of children. The EPA argued that for every dollar spent to make these cuts the public receives up to $9 in health benefits. This undermines the argument of the 20 suing states that they can't afford to enforce these regulations. In truth, states can't afford not to do so.
The Supreme Court offered no explanation for its decision not to take up the appeal — it rarely does — and it may be that the justices noted that industry is ahead of government. Owners of the coal-burning power plants that are the nation's largest source of man-made mercury have been introducing new technology to reduce emissions of mercury and other chemicals.
With the nation focusing on clean energy sources, coal plants will only survive if they clean up their act to whatever extent possible. That economic incentive will have a greater impact than any number of court decisions.