Federal Court Stikes Down EPA Pollution Rule
By Sean Powers, with additional reporting from The Associated Press
A federal appeals court has struck down a plan by the Environmental Protection Agency to limit pollution that can contribute to unhealthy air in neighboring states.
According to the EPA, the rule was scheduled to go into effect in January, and would have cost $800 million a year to retrofit power plants with pollution reduction equipment.
Several large power companies and some states sued to stop it.
The appeals court agreed last December to suspend the rule pending its review.
In a 2-1 decision, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the Environmental Protection Agency's cross-state air pollution rule exceeded the agency's statutory authority. The court faulted the EPA for imposing "massive emissions reduction requirements" on upwind states without regard to limits imposed by law.
"Our decision today should not be interpreted as a comment on the wisdom or policy merits of" the EPA rule, wrote Judge Brett Kavanaugh, in a decision joined by Judge Thomas Griffith — both appointees of Republican President George W. Bush. "It is not our job to set environmental policy. Our limited but important role is to independently ensure that the agency stays within the boundaries Congress has set. EPA did not do so here."
Even with the measure being struck down, Indiana Energy Association President Ed Simcox said many utility companies are already making headway to reduce air pollution.
“Yes, there are certain pollutants that are released, but do we think that rises to the level of being injurious to the health of our citizens? No, we do not," Simcox said. "We think that these power plants are being run safely. We’ve taken measures to ensure that the air gets even cleaner than it is today.”
Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a coalition of utilities and energy companies, called the ruling a "stern warning" to EPA.
"The fair and appropriate regulation of electric power production in the United States is no mere academic exercise," he said. "When the EPA takes liberties with its legal authority, the result is higher prices for consumers, businesses, schools and hospitals. At a time of economic recession, the country cannot afford sloppy rulemaking of this sort. The EPA can and should do better."
The Natural Resources Defense Council wants the EPA to appeal the ruling.
"This rule would have prevented thousands of premature deaths and saved tens of billions of dollars a year in health costs, but two judges blocked that from happening and forced EPA to further delay long overdue health safeguards for Americans," said John Walke, who is the clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The EPA said it is reviewing the court’s decision before deciding what steps to take.