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US Supreme Court Upholds EPA Protections Against Cross-State Pollution

Apr 29, 2014 03:16 PM EDT
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Environmental groups are hailing a 6-2 ruling by the US Supreme Court Tuesday that upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's cross-state air pollution rule, a piece of legislation that the Natural Resources Defense Council called one of the "most significant health standards ever adopted" by the EPA.

The nation's top court upheld the EPA regulation that requires some states to limit pollution that contributes to unhealthy air quality in neighboring states.

Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in writing the majority opinion for the court, said that the EPA legislation that required 28 states to reduce emissions from coal-powered power plants was reasonable. These coal-powered plants release sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the environment, pollutants that contribute to soot and smog.

According to Reuters, Ginsburg called the EPA rule an acceptable interpretation of "good neighbor" provision of the federal Clean Air Act, which "limits cross-border emissions that make it harder for downwind states to comply with federal air quality standards, or national ambient air quality standards."

In a statement obtained by Reuters, EPA chief Gina McCarthy called the ruling a victory for public health.

"Today's Supreme Court decision is a resounding victory for public health and a key component of EPA's efforts to make sure all Americans have clean air to breathe," McCarthy said.

John Walke, director of the Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, also called the ruling a victory.

"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. Implementation of these long overdue protections will prevent thousands of premature deaths and save tens of billions of dollars a year in health costs," he said in a statement. "The EPA safeguards follow the simple principle that giant utility companies shouldn't be allowed to dump their dirty emissions onto residents of downwind states. The Supreme Court wisely upheld this common-sense approach."

An estimated 34,000 premature deaths will be prevented by the ruling, and up to $280 billion in health and environmental benefits will be realized as a result of the ruling, the Wisconsin Gazette reported.

Opponents of the ruling said it allows for the EPA to "abuse" the Clean Air Act.

"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," Laura Sheehan, vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, told Reuters.

The 6-2 Supreme Court ruling passed with justices Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan ruling in favor of the EPA.

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, both of whom are conservative appointees of Republican presidents, dissented.

The ninth justice, Samuel Alito, recused himself from the case for undisclosed reasons, according to Reuters.

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