Divided Court Blocks Vital Clean Air Protections

Clean air protections were threatened today with a U.S. Court of Appeals decision against the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) cross-state air pollution rule (CSAPR). The rule was estimated to reduce power plant emissions across state boundaries, saving up to 34,000 lives each year, preventing 15,000 heart attacks and 400,000 asthma attacks, and providing $120 billion to $280 billion in annual health benefits for the nation.

Issued under the “Good Neighbor” protections of the Clean Air Act, CSAPR would have reduced power plant sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and oxides of nitrogen by 54 percent from 2005 levels across 27 eastern states and the District of Columbia. Current emissions and the resulting particulate pollution and ozone, more commonly known as soot and smog, harm public health both near the plants and hundreds of miles downwind.  As reported in a recent Houston Chronicle editorial, Texas emissions pollute the air of other states, including Louisiana, Illinois and Michigan, and that “our Texas air is in turn polluted by emissions from at least 12 other states.”

Tuesday’s ruling changes little about the facts on the ground in Texas. That is, cross-state air pollution from Texas will still be regulated under the – albeit somewhat weaker – Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) adopted in 2005 during the Bush administration. Texas power plants must therefore comply with both the first phase of the CAIR that took effect in 2010 and the second-phase reductions that are required in 2015.

Still, as EDF General Counsel Vickie Patton stated in a press release, “The court’s decision significantly imperils long overdue clean air safeguards for millions of Americans,” adding that EDF would immediately seek corrective action. Senator Carper of Delaware might have explained the consequences of this ruling best though:

I'm very disappointed in the court's decision to vacate the Environment Protection Agency's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.  The Cross-State Air Pollution rule – or "Good Neighbor" rule –was crucial for the health of citizens like those in Delaware, who live in a state that has cleaned up its harmful air pollution, but still are forced to live with their neighbor's dirty air.  This is the second time the courts have thrown out the Environmental Protection Agency's attempt to deal with interstate air pollution. I encourage the Administration to appeal the decision.  In the meantime, as Chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee in the Senate, I will be working with this Administration, the impacted states and my colleagues to ensure we find a swift solution to ensure all states do their fair share to clean up our air if that appeal is not successful." 

Background

The Cross State Air Pollution Rule was EPA's attempt to replace the CAIR, which also addressed interstate air pollution and was remanded by the same court in 2008 for failing to meet the protections outlined in the Clean Air Act. The CAIR will continue to stay in place as EPA deliberates on how to move forward.

Industry groups fought the rule claiming that the rule punished energy producers.

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