Saturday, May 03, 2014

157.1 - Good News: SCOTUS upholds power of EPA to regulate cross-border pollution

Good News: SCOTUS upholds power of EPA to regulate cross-border pollution

First, good news from a place that hasn't been a source of much good news of late: the Supreme Court

In a 6-2 decision on Tuesday, April 29, the Supreme Court upheld an EPA regulation requiring Midwestern states with coal-fired power plants to reduce their harmful emissions that drift to the East Coast and mid-Atlantic.

The ruling could end a standoff among the states over pollution control that has lasted since 1990.

See, 1990 was the year that Congress amended the Clean Air Act to strengthen the EPA's authority to deal with what's called "cross-border pollution." That happened because East Coast states had been complaining that they could not meet the targets for reducing smog and other sorts of air pollution because of pollution that came to the east from plants in the Midwest. That is, coal-fired plants in the Midwest were producing pollution that, because of prevailing winds, was carried east. So the states that produced the pollution were meeting their clear air targets because they did not have to deal with all the pollution generated there - while other states were not meeting their targets because of pollution generated elsewhere.

So Congress gave the EPA power to deal with it - but the results has been more than two decades of legal and political battles over the agency's attempts to issue regulations to achieve that end.

When the latest version of the cross-state air pollution rule was issued in 2011, the EPA estimated that pollution carried downwind from coal-fired plants was triggering more than 400,000 asthma attacks a year and causing 34,000 premature deaths. But that didn't matter either to the coal industry that didn't want to have to pay for pollution control or the provincial state governments more interested in protecting the interests of in-state corporations than the health of fellow citizens.

Now, with the Supreme Court decision, coal-fired plants in upwind states can be required to install technology to cut their harmful emissions, a fact cheered not only by environmentalists and leaders of several East Coast states, but also public health groups such as the American Lung Association.

There are more fights to come, since the EPA is in the process of strengthening the standards for ozone, a major contributor to smog, from 84 parts per billion to between 60 and 70 ppb. But that future fight doesn't change the fact that this decision is flat out good news.

Footnote: Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas were the dissenters, to what I expect is no one's surprise. In Scalia's dissent, he said the court majority had trampled on the rights of the affected states. Scalia calls himself an "originalist," meaning that in every case he wants to search the Constitution for the "original meaning," the "original intent" of the Founding Fathers. I wonder where in that original meaning he found a "right" to undermine the health of tens of thousands of people.

Sources cited in links:,0,2869822.story

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