A decision was made on Monday by the Supreme Court not to review an appeal filed by 20 states attempting to block EPA rules limiting emissions of mercury and other byproducts of coal production. The appeal was contesting a ruling by a lower court which allowed EPA regulations to remain in effect while the agency completed revisions to calculations of industry compliance costs. These updates were finalized in April.

The EPA praised the ruling by the court Monday, emphasizing the importance of limiting mercury emissions in order to ensure clean air. The agency estimated that for every dollar spent to curb these emissions, the public would receive health benefits worth about 9 dollars. The agency also asserted that the standards are “practical and achievable”, and would save thousands of lives annually, preventing heart and asthma attacks.

More than 20 states filed a lawsuit opposing these pollution standards, contesting that the controls called for by the regulations were too expensive relative to their potential public health benefits. However, the cost analysis released by the EPA in April argued that compliance costs would represent only a fraction of annual revenue for the industry, and that the rules would be unlikely to result in significantly increased bills for customers. In the years of legal challenges to the proposed emissions rules, many utility companies have already made the changes necessary to comply with the limits.

The EPA’s website lists coal combustion as the second most significant source of mercury emissions, and details the health effects of exposure to mercury. This exposure can affect the cognitive thinking, memory, motor skills, and visual spatial skills of children who were exposed to mercury while in the womb. Some studies have also shown exposure to extremely high mercury levels to cause tumors in mice and rats.

The decision stands in contrast to the ruling by the Supreme Court in February to block part of President Obama’s wide-reaching proposal to curb carbon emissions. That decision was in response to a stay request from states and utility companies which argued that the EPA would be overstepping its authority in enforcing the proposal. The plan by the Obama administration would set out to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by a third by 2030. The court’s decision means that questions about legality will remain unanswered through the end of Obama’s term.

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