Supreme Court Upholds EPA Interstate Air Pollution Regulation

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a 6-2 ruling last week that upheld how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates interstate air pollution.  The ruling was on the case of the EPA vs. Homer City Generation, L.P., No. 12-1182.  This case challenged the Transport Rule issued by the EPA in August of 2011 that set emission reduction obligations for power plants in upwind states that contribute significantly to downwind states’ nonattainment of air quality standards.

The rule was challenged by power companies; coal companies; states including Texas, Michigan, and Ohio; and other parties in August of 2012.  This challenge was won in a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit because the court stated that the rule exceeded the EPA’s authority.

However, this decision was reversed by the Supreme Court.  “Today’s ruling means that the big polluters’ days of dumping pollution on our citizens without consequence are over,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) in a statement. “EPA will now be able to do its job and protect the American people from dirty air, and I applaud the Court for its ruling.”

This ruling is important for the states suffering from the downwind effects of pollution from upwind states.  For example, Connecticut could reduce all of its air emissions to zero and it would still fail Clean Air Act Standards due to the air pollution from four upwind states.  “People who live downwind of these major polluters need this decision, because the ozone and particle pollution in their communities threatens their lives,” the American Lung Association said in a statement.

The ruling will require around 1,000 power plants, mostly located in the eastern U.S., to incorporate new pollution controls and reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide.  This rule, along other mercury and air toxics rules, could result in the retirement of 60 gigawatts of coal-fired power plants by 2020.

“Today’s ruling helps us all breathe a little easier: it reduces harmful pollutants from coal-fired power plants, improves the health of millions of Americans, and allows the EPA to focus on reducing the biggest contribution to global warming from coal-fired power plants, carbon dioxide,” said Danielle Baussan, Managing Director of Energy and Environment Policy at the Center for American Progress.

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