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A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington December 3, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington December 3, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst  

Supreme Court Upholds Major EPA Regulation

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld a major Environmental Protection Agency regulation that forces states to limit air pollution that drifts across state lines, which could result in even more regulations on the coal industry.

Justices sided with the EPA in a 6 to 2 decision, saying that the agency’s rule that states should regulate smog and soot emissions from power plants did not violate the Clean Air Act, reversing a lower court decision striking down the rule.

“In crafting a solution to the problem of interstate air pollution, regulators must account for the vagaries of the wind,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the majority opinion. “EPA’s cost-effective allocation of emission reductions among upwind States, we hold, is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor Provision.”

The court’s decision was cheered by the EPA and environmentalists, who argued it was a victory for public health.

“This is great news for millions of people who suffer from serious health problems caused by the soot and smog-causing pollution from power plants in other states,” said John Walke, director of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Implementation of these long overdue protections will prevent thousands of premature deaths and save tens of billions of dollars a year in health costs.”

Republicans and the coal industry have blasted the decision, saying it imposes huge burdens on power producers and lessens states’ ability to set its own environmental standards. Fourteen states and several power companies sued the EPA over the rule, saying it put undue burdens on some states without regard to their actual contribution to cross-state air pollution.

“Upholding this rule will place a great deal of stress on Texas’ electricity grid,” said Texas Republican Rep. Pete Olson. “When EPA issued the original rule, at least two Texas plants were scheduled for closure, now that the final rule has been upheld, we must prepare for plant closures and further strains on reliability.”

The EPA implemented its so-called Cross-State Air Pollution (CSAPR) in 2011. The rule required 28 Midwestern and Southern states to reduce air pollution emissions that were drifting into the air space of states along the East Coast.

But the rule was struck down by a federal court in 2012 for not allowing the states enough time to come up with their own smog and soot emission reductions plans and for imposing emissions reduction goals without taking into consideration each state’s actual contribution to cross-state air pollution.

“In this case, however, we conclude that EPA has transgressed statutory boundaries,” according to the 2012 opinion by Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh. “Therefore, the Rule must be vacated.”

“Whatever its merits as a policy matter, EPA’s Transport Rule violates the statute,” wrote Kavanaugh.

The recent Supreme Court ruling allows the EPA to essentially re-implement CSAPR and impose emissions reductions goals on states without regards to their actual contributions to cross-state air pollution.

“EPA continues to abuse the Clean Air Act, imposing overreaching regulations that promise little ‘gain’ with great ‘pain’ for American consumers and the broader American economy,” said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.

“With the Supreme Court’s ruling today, we are profoundly concerned about the costs and reliability impacts of rules like CSAPR and the absence of oversight in identifying and addressing such concerns,” Sheehan added.

The coal industry has already invested $130 billion in pollution control equipment that have lowered major air emissions by nearly 90 percent. The industry says it plans to invest another $100 billion in such emissions over the next decade.

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