Jack Lienke is a senior attorney at the Institute for Policy Integrity and a coauthor, with Richard L. Revesz, of Struggling for Air: Power Plants and the “War on Coal.”


Have you read Bleak House by Charles Dickens? Me neither — it’s very long — but I did watch the miniseries. The plot involves a lawsuit over an inheritance, Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, which drags on for so many years that, in the end, there’s nothing left to inherit: The entire estate has been spent on legal fees.

I think of that miniseries each time I learn of a new twist in the longstanding legal battle over EPA restrictions on mercury pollution from power plants. And I worry that, like Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, the mercury litigation could carry on long past the point of futility.

It’s already been almost 17 years since the EPA first concluded that it should issue a rule limiting mercury emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants. It’s been more than five years since the agency actually did issue such a rule. And it’s been more than two years since the nation’s power plants started complying with the rule. All along the way, the EPA, states, power companies, and public health and environmental groups have been fighting about the rule in court. They show no signs of stopping anytime soon.