Appeals court reinstates Clean Air rules
WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court reversed itself Tuesday and temporarily reinstated regulations aimed at sharply reducing smog and soot from power plants in 28 Eastern states over the next decade.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in July had struck down the Clean Air Interstate Rule developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in response to a legal challenge by several states. Going beyond what the states sought, the court called the Bush Administration’s regulations “fatally flawed” and stripped them from the books.
Asked to reconsider by the EPA, environmental groups and 23 states, the court acknowledged that tossing out the regulations in their entirety could have serious adverse implications for public health and the environment.
The timing is important. Under the Clean Air Interstate Rule, utilities must start cutting nitrogen oxide pollution in 2009 and sulfur dioxide emissions in 2010 and phase in further reductions in both contaminants by 2015. The interstate rule aimed to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides by about 60 percent and sulfur dioxide by about 70 percent by 2025.
Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emitted from power plants form fine particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and cause breathing problems. Nitrogen oxides also contribute to ground-level ozone, the primary component of smog.
“Today’s court decision is a welcome gift for the millions of Americans that face serious health threats from power plant pollution,” said Vickie Patton, deputy general counsel at Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups that asked the court not to vacate the regulations.