Court delays "good neighbor" clean air protections for 240 million Americans

December 30, 2011

Tony Kreindler at 202-445-8108,
Vickie Patton at 720-827-6239,

(December 30, 2011) Today a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals in Washington, DC granted motions by several power companies and states to temporarily halt implementation of the Cross State Air Pollution Rule adopted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in July. EPA issued the rule under the “Good Neighbor” protections of the Clean Air Act, which ensure that the emissions from one state’s power plants do not cause harmful pollution levels in neighboring states. Compliance with the rule was scheduled to begin January 1, 2012.

“Today’s judicial decision temporarily halts implementation of life-saving clean air protections for 240 million Americans pending full review of the facts and the law,” said Vickie Patton, EDF’s General Counsel. “The pollution reductions at stake are some of the single most important clean air protections for children, families and communities across the eastern half of the United States. Several years ago, this same court similarly halted EPA’s first interstate air pollution protection program and then affirmed EPA’s action after a complete review of the facts and law. Environmental Defense Fund will continue to vigorously defend these vitally important reductions of harmful smokestack pollution against the legal attacks brought by large power companies and states such as Texas.”

The court’s decision will delay vital reductions in air pollution from power plant smokestacks that adversely affect air quality for 240 million Americans in 27 eastern states. It blocks pollution reductions that would save as many as 6600 lives in 2012 alone and provide an estimated $49 billion in public health protections in 2012. The Rule will be stayed pending full briefing on the merits and full consideration by the Court. The Court expressly directed EPA to continue administering existing less protective emission standards under the 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule pending the court’s resolution of these petitions for review.” The Court also explicitly directed that the case be briefed and heard swiftly, ordering oral argument in the case by April 2012.

Today’s stay ruling is only temporary: the court’s order states the rule is “stayed pending the court’s resolution of these petitions for review.” Several years ago a similar rule providing for regional reductions in oxides of nitrogen was temporarily halted by the same court, and then affirmed after judicial review was completed. Environmental Defense Fund will continue to vigorously fight for these vitally important clean air protections.

EPA estimates that when fully implemented the Cross State Air Pollution Rule each year will save up to 34,000 lives, prevent 15,000 heart attacks and prevent 400,000 asthma attacks, providing $120 billion to $280 billion in annual health benefits for the nation. The Rule provided for tightening limits on the amount of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution that can be emitted from coal-fired power plants across 27 eastern states beginning January 1, 2012. That pollution drifts across the borders of those states and the District of Columbia, contributing to dangerous — and sometimes lethal — levels of particulate and smog pollution in downwind states. While no one is immune to these impacts, children and the elderly are especially vulnerable.

The Rule is designed to reduce power plant sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent and oxides of nitrogen by 54 percent from 2005 levels. These emissions and the resulting particulate pollution and ozone, more commonly known as smog and soot, impair air quality and harm public health both near the plants and hundreds of miles downwind.