Supreme Court Affirms Federal Power To Protect Public Health & Clean Air

January 21, 2004

(21 January, 2004 — Washington)  Today the Supreme Court affirmed the federal government’s power to protect public health by enforcing clean air measures when states fail to carry out their basic responsibilities under the Clean Air Act.  The case involved a Clean Air Act enforcement action against the Red Dog Mine in northern Alaska, the largest zinc mine in the world.  Environmental Defense filed an amicus brief in the case, spearheading a coalition of environmental and conservation groups.

“Today’s decision is good news for the lungs of every American and shows that the federal government has an obligation to secure clean, safe air for all Americans,” said Environmental Defense senior attorney Vickie Patton.  “Now the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must carry out these fundamental public health and environmental responsibilities, not weaken clean air enforcement as it recently announced.”

In the case before the Court, Alaska issued a construction permit for a large diesel generator at Teck-Cominco’s Red Dog Mine, requiring pollution controls only a third as effective as technologies the state determined were feasible and affordable.  EPA brought an enforcement action to prohibit construction until a proper permit was issued.  The Red Dog Mine is located five miles from the Noatak National Preserve, a spectacular mountain-ringed river basin containing an intact Arctic ecosystem. 

The case arises under provisions of the Clean Air Act governing the pre-construction review permit requirements for large new power plants and industrial sources, a key element of the Act’s “new source review” program.   EPA recently announced it was abandoning some 50 pending investigations against high-polluting power plants and other industrial sources.  The investigations were based on alleged violations of the Clean Air Act’s new source review program.

  • Read the Court’s opinions in Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation v. Environmental Protection Agency et al. (U.S. Supreme Court web site)