Such a Curious Dream: Obama EPA Abandons Bush Mercury Rules

 "'Wake up, Alice dear!' said her sister; 'Why, what a long sleep you've had!'  'Oh, I've had such a curious dream!' said Alice."

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.


When Alice awoke from her phantasmagorical journey to Wonderland, having escaped the capricious tyranny of the Queen of Hearts and her court of freaks and frauds, she found herself resting in the comforting lap of her sister. After exclaiming what a curious dream she had, Alice bounded up and ran home, rejoining reality.

January 20, 2009 marked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's escape from Wonderland.

And today marked EPA's welcome return to reality.

This morning, on instruction from newly-confirmed EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the Solicitor General asked the Supreme Court to drop the Bush administration's desperate appeal to resurrect EPA's illegal and harmful power plant mercury rule. The Bush administration had petitioned the Supreme Court in October 2008 after several filing extensions that suggested even the former administration's Solicitor General was reluctant to appeal the Bush EPA's thoroughly illegal undertaking.

Indeed, one of President Bush's appointed conservative judges joined two others in February 2008 unanimously striking down the two harmful power plant mercury rules that the Bush administration had substituted for the stronger, faster rules the Clean Air Act requires to sharply reduce all hazardous air pollution from power plants, mercury included.

These three judges openly mocked the legal "reasoning" underlying the Bush EPA rules, declaring that the Bush administration's excuses for evading statutory requirements "deploy[ed] the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting EPA's desires for the plain text of" the law. Before relieving utility companies from the Clean Air Act's protections, the law required EPA to make a rigorous health-based showing that no power plant in the country would emit hazardous air pollution that harmed public health or the environment. EPA could not make this showing, of course, so the agency did not even pretend to do so; instead Bush administration officials concocted an upside-down version of the law akin to the capricious Queen's "sentence first -- verdict afterwards."

Just as important as the Obama administration's action today abandoning the illegal Bush-era mercury rules is the affirmative commitment that President Obama's EPA embraced. In the Solicitor General's filing, and in a morning speech delivered by Administrator Jackson to the Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference, the Obama administration EPA actually embraced the obligation to issue protective, timely controls to reduce all hazardous air pollutants from power plants using the strongest tools provided by the Clean Air Act.

The Obama administration EPA is committing to clean up power plants' toxic pollution because it's the right thing to do. Not because some court ordered them to after the agency broke the law.

Let me extend a hearty welcome to the new reality at EPA.

The knaves and lizards from the Queen's court are still with us, alas, with utility industry lobbyists and lawyers presenting a separate petition to the Supreme Court to resurrect the harmful Bush-era mercury rules.

But the Obama administration's request to dismiss the case and abandon the Bush administration's high court appeal, makes it highly unlikely that the Supreme Court justices will wish to hear the case and grant industry's petition.

The long nightmare will soon be over.