Court makes right decision in EPA case

Environmental Protection Agency officials are masters of using numbers selectively. New regulations are accompanied by claims they will save lives and improve the nation’s economy. But the agency never seems to look at the other side of the coin – the human and economic devastation wrought by its mandates.

Supreme Court justices this week ordered the agency to do a better job of that. It remains to be seen whether the EPA will comply in a realistic manner.

Justices ruled in a lawsuit involving multiple parties, including Murray Energy of St. Clairsville, which owns mines in Ohio and West Virginia. The case involved EPA rules that affect power plant emissions of mercury and other substances.

EPA officials failed to take the cost of complying with the rules into account adequately, the court ruled. Now, the case goes back to a lower court, where the expense is supposed to be explored and taken into consideration in ruling whether the EPA can proceed in enforcing the rules.

Unfortunately, as the agency has pointed out, it may be too late to reverse the EPA’s action. More than 70 percent of the nation’s power plants have installed equipment to meet the new emissions standards.

Still, the question of how demanding the courts will be regarding cost is important.

EPA officials insist the rules will prevent as many as 11,000 deaths and will save the economy as much as $90 billion a year. A first step for the lower court should be to insist the agency defend those numbers. It has been permitted to use fantastic claims for many years.

A second step for the lower court should be to demand the EPA include all costs of compliance in its calculations. How much higher will electric bills be, for how many people? How will that affect their personal budgets?

Will it mean some skimp on health care spending? How will the rules affect employment? How many people will lose their jobs – and how will that affect their health and that of their families?

For too long, the EPA has been allowed to get away with ignoring the collateral damage of its draconian mandates. Does this week’s high court ruling mean that will come to an end?

Let us hope so.