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On April 29, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules on power plant pollution that blows across state lines. The 6-2 ruling overturned a D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals decision last year that struck down the rule, and gives the Obama administration a major victory as it fights to curb air pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion for the majority, and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
Known as the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, the EPA finalized the rule in 2011 to limit pollution levels in 28 eastern U.S. states. The rule forced utilities to install pollution control equipment that would cut back on sulfur and nitrogen emissions that “contribute significantly” to pollution in neighboring states. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA can issue regulations under the “Good Neighbor” provision.
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Many of the nation’s coal-fired power plants are located in the Midwest and South and produce air pollution that drifts into neighboring states. For example, an estimated 93 percent of ozone pollution in New Haven, Connecticut comes from out-of-state polluters.
The Supreme Court decision gives the Obama administration firmer legal ground to stand on as it embarks upon a ambitious campaign to cut coal pollution. The EPA is currently writing rules that would limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, which are due out in June.
Legal experts say future challenges to environmental regulations will face a higher legal bar as a result of this latest Supreme Court decision. The New York Times quotes Jody Freeman, director of the environmental law program at Harvard, as saying, “It’s a big win for the EPA, and not just because it has to do with this rule. It’s the fact that it’s setting the stage and creating momentum for what’s to come.”
By Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com