Revenue minus cost equals profit. On June 29, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling in the case, “Michigan v. Environmental Protection Agency,” that declares that corporate profits outweigh any threat to the lives and health of millions of working people and their families, particularly families in the most oppressed communities.
Industry groups and 23 states had challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling that limited mercury emissions from power plants. They argued that the EPA failed to recognize the costs to power plant corporations to comply with the new regulations, which had taken the EPA several years of study to formulate.
“Mercury is considered one of the most toxic pollutants because studies show that when it falls from the atmosphere, it readily passes from fish and other sources to a pregnant woman’s unborn fetus and the fetal brain, causing neurological abnormalities and delays in children. The EPA estimated that 7 percent of [U.S.] American women of childbearing age — millions of women — were being exposed to the pollutant in dangerous amounts.” (npr.org, June 29)
In her dissent, Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that complying with the EPA rules would prevent 11,000 premature deaths annually, along with a far greater number of avoidable illnesses.
Of course, it was the right-wing majority that ruled against the EPA. Justice Antonin Scalia issued the majority opinion, stating, “It is unreasonable to read an instruction to an administrative agency to determine whether ’regulation is appropriate and necessary’ as an invitation to ignore cost.” (npr.org)
The court majority agreed with the power and coal industry and the EPA that the cost benefits of compliance would amount to only $4-6 million. The analysts at the EPA did indeed estimate that compliance would cost the industry $9.6 billion, but also estimated the health and other savings to society would be $80 billion.
That’s the core of this ruling. Counter to Scalia’s claim, the EPA workers and analysts did not ignore cost — they calculated it through every stage of their research after they determined that studying the harmful effects of mercury emissions by coal-fired power plants was necessary.
No, the real problem for the right-wing court majority is that these increased costs to reduce poisonous mercury emissions reduces the corporations’ profits, whereas the benefits go primarily only to the women and children, to the working class. And for these justices, they count for nothing.
Small community groups and national environmental organizations have built a strong movement to try to protect the populace from industrial poisons like mercury, as well as a whole range of damaging emissions, like carbon dioxide, which is causing global warming. This Supreme Court ruling makes it clear that the fight over the environment is a key component of the global class struggle.
On the other side of this struggle are the coal and oil barons, the Wall Street bankers and their servile courts, all key parts of this social and economic system called capitalism. In the long run, the goal must be to replace it with socialism, which puts the people’s lives and health ahead of corporate profits.