Supreme Court agrees to review controversial EPA air rule

The Supreme Court announced Monday it would review the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision to reverse one of the Obama administration's signature air quality policies, the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

The move cheered environmentalists, who view the rule as a key tool for forcing coal-fired power plants to install stricter pollution controls. The regulation would have reduced the sulfur dioxide and oxides of nitrogen pollution emitted from coal-fired power plants across 28 Eastern states and the District of Columbia, but the D.C. Circuit ruled 2 to 1 in August the the Environmental Protection Agency had overstepped its authority in issuing a rule that was costly, burdensome and arbitrary.

“This is welcome news for the millions of Americans afflicted by harmful air pollution from power plants,” said EDF general counsel Vickie Patton. “The Cross State Rule is firmly anchored in science and law, and will ensure healthier and longer lives for 240 million Americans. We look forward to presenting this compelling case for clean air to the high court.”

Business and utility officials had cheered the decision to strike down the rule, saying it would help keep electricity affordable for American consumers.

On Monday, Scott Segal, a lobbyist for the utilities industry, wrote in an e-mail that he and others “hope the Supreme Court will reaffirm and perhaps even extend the ruling of the appellate court in the cross-state air pollution case.”

“The fair and appropriate regulation of electric power production in the United States is no mere academic exercise,” Segal wrote. “When the EPA takes liberties with its legal authority, the result is higher prices for consumers, businesses, schools and hospitals.  At a time of economic recession, the country cannot afford sloppy rulemaking of this sort.  The EPA can and should do better.”

The EPA did not commented immediately after the Supreme Court announced its review of the D.C. Circuit's ruling.

Gina McCarthy, who now heads EPA's air and radiation office and has been nominated by President Obama to head EPA, has described the overturning of the Cross-State rule as the "greatest disappointment" of her tenure in the administration.

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Robert Barnes | June 24, 2013