Legal challenges to MATS rule held in abeyance - Business, Government Legal News from throughout WV

Legal challenges to MATS rule held in abeyance

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Legal challenges to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's controversial Mercury and Air Toxics Standards by developers of new power plants are held in abeyance, by order of a federal court, while the agency reconsiders aspects of the standards.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued its order in White Stallion Energy Center LLC et al. v. Environmental Protection Agency on Sept. 12.

The EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards — also known as the Hazardous Air Pollutants rule for utilities and the Utility Maximum Available Control Technology rule, but most often referred to as the MATS rule — established the first national standards to limit toxic air emissions from power plants when it was filed in the Federal Register in February 2012.

The rule is expected to cut mercury emissions by 90 percent and also to cut emissions of arsenic, chromium, nickel, acid gases including hydrochloric and hydrofluoric acid and fine particulate matter.

It was estimated by the agency to cost about $9.7 billion per year and to provide benefits of up to $90 billion per year, due primarily to as many as 11,000 premature deaths avoided each year.

The compliance deadline originally was Jan. 1, 2015, with an additional year of flexibility in cases where electric reliability might be compromised.

The MATS rule is one of the primary drivers of a wave of announced retirements of old coal-fired power plants.

At the same time, numerous power producers, chambers of commerce and manufacturing and energy trade groups have filed challenges to both the existing generating units and the new generating units aspects of the rule.

The particular challenges addressed by the Sept. 12 order are for two technical issues related to new generating units.

However, on July 20, the EPA granted administrative reconsideration of the two issues in question, to be completed by March 2013. It asked the court on the same day to abey the legal challenges pending the results of its administrative reconsideration.

Otherwise, the agency wrote, "the parties will be forced to litigate, and this court to adjudicate, issues that EPA has stated will be subject to administrative reconsideration. Such parallel proceedings would be a waste of the court's resources, and could create a risk of regulatory confusion if the court were to rule on aspects of the MATS rule that are actively under reconsideration by EPA."

The EPA expects to issue a reconsideration rule by March 2013.

The three-judge panel consisting of judges David Tatel, Thomas Griffith and Brett Kavanaugh also ordered that the agency file status reports with the court every 30 days.

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