June was a big month for the climate, and I’m not just talking about President Obama’s landmark speech on climate change. In a decision that could affect the lives of 240 million people across the eastern half of the U.S., the Supreme Court announced that it would review a lower court decision that overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. See our earlier post here. The Cross-State Rule was enacted by the EPA under the “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act. In July of 2011, the EPA finalized the rule, requiring twenty-eight eastern states to reduce power plant emissions that contribute to pollution from ozone and fine particulate matter in other states. The rule is meant to ensure that the emissions from one state’s power plants do not cause harmful pollution levels in neighboring states in the form of ozone and particulate pollution —otherwise known as soot and smog.
The Supreme Court’s decision to review the lower court’s ruling is especially significant to Texas. Opponents of the clean air standards, including our own Attorney General Greg Abbott, sued to block them. Their chief concern: that the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule might affect Texas’ dirtiest coal-fired power plants. In August of last year, a deeply divided three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated and remanded the Cross-State Rule to EPA.
The state government’s effort to pin the Texas Energy Crunch on the EPA puts the health of Texas and the nation at risk without offering any long-term solutions. The Cross-State Rule would reduce sulfur dioxide levels from eastern power plants by 73%, and nitrogen oxide levels by 54% from 2005 levels. These enormous emissions reductions would prevent 400,000 asthma attacks each year—and save up to 34,000 lives annually. And provide up to $280 billion in annual net health benefits. Despite these substantial health benefits, the State of Texas challenged the rule to prevent a handful of coal plants from switching to low-sulfur coal, increasing scrubber efficiency, or installing readily-available pollution-control technology.
In March, EDF joined the American Lung Association, National Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and the Clean Air Council in petitioning the Supreme Court to review the lower court’s decision. EPA also filed a petition, and several states and cities that are adversely affected by interstate air pollution, as well as two power companies, filed briefs supporting the petitions. EDF and Texas citizens concerned about public health applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to reconsider the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule in response to our petitions. Texas has been criticized before about not being a good neighbor, especially with regard to emissions from power plants floating into nearby Oklahoma. We are pleased to announce that the Supreme Court will hear the case later this year. We hope that the court affirms EPA’s right to limit—as it did with the Cross-State Rule—harmful interstate air pollution that affects all Americans. In doing so, the Supreme Court will hasten the transition to a cleaner electricity system that guards Americans from dangerous air pollution.