U.S. Supreme Court

SCOTUS backs EPA rule tackling problem of cross-state pollution

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The U.S. Supreme Court has backed the Environmental Protection Agency in its interpretation of a “Good Neighbor” provision in the Clean Air Act.

In a 6-2 opinion (PDF), the court said the EPA’s cross-state air pollution rule is a reasonable interpretation of the provision, which is designed to tackle the problem of air pollution emitted in one state that causes problems in other states.

The Natural Resources Defense Counsel says in a statement that the cross-state air pollution rule is one of the most significant health standards ever adopted by the EPA. “Implementation of these long overdue protections will prevent thousands of premature deaths and save tens of billions of dollars a year in health costs,” says John Walke, director of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in the press release. Stories by the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.) say the decision is a victory for the Obama administration.

The rule had required 27 upwind states to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, taking costs into account, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her majority opinion. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit had vacated the rule, saying its determination of emission reductions should have been based only on each upwind state’s physically proportionate responsibility for each downwind state’s air quality problem.

Ginsburg said the EPA’s “cost-effective allocation of emission reductions among upwind states … is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor Provision.”

Justice Antonin Scalia dissented in an opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. “Today, the majority approves that undemocratic revision of the Clean Air Act,” Scalia wrote. “The majority reaches its result (‘Look Ma, no hands!’) without benefit of text, claiming to have identified a remarkable ‘gap’ in the statute, which it proceeds to fill (contrary to the plain logic of the statute) with cost-benefit analysis—and then, with no pretended textual justification at all, simply extends cost-benefit analysis beyond the scope of the alleged gap.”

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. did not participate in the decision.

The case is Environmental Protection Agency v. EME Homer City Generation.

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