US EPA defeats states, utilities and industry on interstate pollution

The US Supreme Court has ruled that an Environmental Protection Agency law requiring many states to reduce their air pollution drifting across stateliness can stay, defeating an action brought about by 50 utilities, eight states and industry groups.

In its 5 March ruling, the US Supreme Court rejected the challenge to the EPA’s 1998 rule, which ordered 22 states and the District of Columbia to drastically cut emissions of smog-causing nitrogen oxide (NOx) from 2003, especially coal-burning power plants, because they are sources of interstate pollution. This came soon after the Court upheld the method by which the federal government sets air pollution standards, rejecting industry arguments that public health benefits should be weighed against the costs of compliance.

The plaintiffs argued that the rule, mainly aimed at Midwestern emissions that drift into Northeast states, exceed the agency’s authority to address interstate air pollution and said that utilities faced a $12 billion outlay to comply with the regulation. They also argued that the EPA might not fully consider the cost effectiveness of the pollution control available for identifying the emissions, the database known as the Utility Environmental Upgrade Tracking System.

The case had gone to the Supreme Court after an appeal court upheld the rule in 2000, saying that the EPA had correctly considered the cost of air pollution regulations when determining which states should reduce their emissions and to what level they should reduce them.

The court told the EPA to reconsider the plan for Wisconsin, Missouri and Georgia but upheld the rule for the District of Columbia and the other states; Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

The Justice Department, on behalf of the EPA, and supported by nine Eastern states and the Canadian province of Ontario said the appeals should be rejected.

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