Supreme Court to review decision critical to cleaning up America's air

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On June 24, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to review the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in a case called EME Homer City Generation. To anyone concerned about the quality of the nation’s air, this was very big news. Here’s why.

In EME Homer City, which the D.C. Circuit decided last summer, a divided court overturned the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, one of the Environmental Protection Agency’s most important (and cost-effective) clean air programs. In their filing asking the Supreme Court to hear the case, the Environmental Protection Agency argued that “the court of appeals committed a series of fundamental errors that, if left undisturbed, will gravely undermine the EPA’s enforcement of the Clean Air Act.”

The stakes are high. Every year, the Cross-State Rule, if only it can be applied, will save up to 34,000 lives and $110 to $280 billion in net health benefits. Without it, millions of people and entire communities will remain exposed to dangerous levels of pollution.

EPA issued the Cross-State Rule in 2011 under the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” provision, which directs states to “prohibit” emissions that are carried downwind and contribute to unhealthy air pollution in neighboring states. If states do not live up to their good neighbor obligations, then the Clean Air Act requires EPA to step in. According to 2011 estimates, air pollution from neighboring states accounted for more than three-quarters of local air pollution in many areas struggling to comply with EPA’s health-based standards. As this data shows, millions of Americans are breathing unhealthy air that originates in neighboring states.

The Cross-State Rule helps address this problem by reducing harmful smokestack pollution from power plants, which can drift for hundreds of miles and adversely affect distant communities. Despite its enormous health benefits and relatively small compliance costs, numerous power companies and several states challenged the Cross-State Rule in the D.C. Circuit. Numerous parties then joined the case in support of EPA and the Cross-State Rule, including: several states and cities that are adversely affected by interstate pollution; three major power companies; and EDF, along with some of its public health and environmental allies.

After the D.C. Circuit struck down the Cross-State Rule, Environmental Defense Fund, along with the American Lung Association, Clean Air Council, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sierra Club filed a petition seeking Supreme Court review, which the Supreme Court granted along with EPA’s petition.

The Supreme Court, we believe, should reverse the decision of the D.C. Circuit and restore the clean air safeguards of the Cross-State Rule.

This will safeguard the air quality of millions of Americans who depend on EPA to protect them from pollution that comes from beyond the borders of their own states. No wonder, when EPA called for the Supreme Court to review EME Homer City, they warned that, should the decision stand, it would “seriously impede the EPA’s ability to deal with a grave public health problem.”

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Graham McCahan

Graham McCahan

Graham McCahan, a native Coloradan, is a staff attorney in EDF's Boulder, CO, office. 

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