Breaking News: Supreme Court Upholds EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule!

After a trip through the United States’ court system that brought it all the way to the Supreme Court, the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) friendly ghost of interstate air pollution is alive and well.  Today, the Supreme Court upheld EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (known by its acronym CSAPR – pronounced un-intuitively as “Casper”) marking a big win for EPA in its quest to control air pollution that travels across state lines.  The Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision means that CSAPR, adopted by EPA in 2011 to limit the emission of dangerous air pollutants in more than two dozen states along the Atlantic Coast, can finally take effect.  By upholding CSAPR, the Supreme Court has once again recognized EPA’s broad authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate harmful air pollution and to protect communities from the devastating effects of poor air quality. (To read SACE’s press release on this historic decision, click here).

The Supreme Court’s decision marks the end of a long EPA battle to address elevated pollution levels in downwind states caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants in upwind states.  EPA’s first attempt at regulating interstate air pollutants like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), was struck down in July 2008. While EPA regrouped after this initial setback, the court left the remedy provided by CAIR, known as the NOx SIP Call trading program, in place as an interim emission reduction measure.  This trading program set emissions allowances for particular sources, e.g. power plants, and allowed plants to either reduce their emissions to meet these allowances or purchase surplus allowances from plants that were able to significantly reduce emissions.  In invalidating CAIR, the Court instructed EPA to go back to the drawing board and craft an interstate air pollution rule that would conform to the Clean Air Act as well as applicable court precedent.  So, like a good student, EPA went back to the drawing board and came up with CSAPR and released it for public comment.

This map illustrates the many paths air pollution can travel between states.

Despite its best efforts, EPA’s new interstate air pollution regulation was also challenged and appeared to be on the same death march through the court system as CAIR.  In August 2012, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that the CSAPR cleanup apportionment scheme exceeded EPA’s authority to regulate interstate air pollution.  In January 2013, the D.C. Circuit denied EPA’s petition for a re-hearing of the August 2012 decision, leaving the EPA with one last hope if they wanted to keep CSAPR alive.  In June 2013, EPA petitioned the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision and the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.  The case was argued in front of the Supreme Court in December 2013 and we have been waiting for its decision ever since.

Almost one year from the EPA’s petition, the Supreme Court has reinstated CSAPR and for that we should all be thankful. EPA estimates that emission reductions resulting from CSAPR will prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths, 19,000 hospital and emergency room visits and more than 1 million cases of respiratory illness annually.  Appropriately, today’s Supreme Court decision comes during EPA’s Air Quality Awareness Week, aimed at educating the public about the dangerous health effects caused by poor air quality.

Today’s decision marks an important step towards cleaning up our air, allowing the EPA to protect downwind states – particularly all of ours in the Southeast – from the dangerous health effects caused by the coal-fired power plants located in upwind states.  Although it’s trip through the court system delayed action, our friendly air regulation ghost is back and this time no one can stop him from cleaning up the air and alleviating the burden borne by those of us living in downwind states.

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