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Environmental Law

Appeals Court Compares EPA to Queen of Hearts, Strikes Down Mercury-Swap Rule

Posted Feb 8, 2008 1:29 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A federal appeals court alluded to Alice in Wonderland when it ruled today that the EPA violated federal law by adopting rules allowing some power plants to exceed caps on mercury emissions.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down an EPA proposal that would allow companies to swap rights to emit mercury, Reuters reports. Under the rule, plants that didn’t meet mercury caps could have bought credits from plants that met the allowances, the Associated Press explains.

The court also overturned the agency’s decision to remove coal- and oil-fired power plants from stringent pollution controls under the Clean Air Act.

The opinion (PDF) by Judge Judith Rogers criticized the agency’s arguments in support of its departure from the mandates of the federal law, saying its explanation “deploys the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting EPA’s desires for the plain text of section.”

The mercurial Alice in Wonderland character is quick to pronounce “Off With Her Head” and believes in sentencing before the verdict.

New Jersey, 13 other states and several environmental organizations challenged the regulations. They contended the trading scheme could lead to “hot spots” of mercury downwind of plants that emit higher levels of the chemical.

“This three-judge panel has done the world a favor and helped save lives,'' said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

Updated 3:38 p.m. CT to clarify the number of states in the coalition challenging the regulations.

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