Court upholds EPA rule on cross-state pollution

Ruling is an important victory for Obama administration in controlling emissions from power plants
Associated Press
Apr 29, 2014


In a major anti-pollution ruling, the Supreme Court on Tuesday backed federally imposed limits on smokestack emissions that cross state lines and burden downwind areas with bad air from power plants they can't control.

The 6-2 ruling was an important victory for the Obama administration in controlling emissions from power plants in 27 Midwestern and Appalachian states that contribute to soot and smog along the East Coast.

It also capped a decades-long effort by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that states are good neighbors and don't contribute to pollution problems elsewhere. The rule upheld Tuesday was EPA's third attempt to solve the problem.

The rule, challenged by industry and upwind states, had been cast by foes as an attempt by the Obama administration to step on states' rights and to shut down aging coal-fired power plants. Opponents said the decision could embolden the agency to take the same tack later this year when it proposes rules to limit carbon pollution. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has said the agency will be flexible and work with states on the first-ever controls on power plants for the gases blamed for global warming.

On Tuesday, the court upheld a rule adopted by the EPA in 2011 that would force polluting states to reduce smokestack emissions that contaminate the air in downwind states. Power companies and several states sued to block the rule, and a federal appeals court in Washington agreed with them in 2012.

The Supreme Court reversed that decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg acknowledged the complexity of the problem before EPA.

"In crafting a solution to the problem of interstate air pollution, regulators must account for the vagaries of the wind," Ginsburg wrote.

The high court said the EPA, under the Clean Air Act, can implement federal plans in states that do not adequately control downwind pollution. But the court also ruled that the EPA can consider the cost of pollution controls and does not have to require states to reduce pollution by the precise amount they send to downwind states.

McCarthy called the court's ruling "a resounding victory for public health and a key component of EPA's efforts to make sure all Americans have clean air to breathe."

But Justice Antonin Scalia, in a vigorous dissent from the outcome, said, "Today's decision feeds the uncontrolled growth of the administrative state at the expense of government by the people." Reading part of his dissent from the bench, Scalia said the result "comes at the expense of endorsing, and thereby encouraging for the future, rogue administration of the law."

Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia in dissent. Justice Samuel Alito took no part in consideration of the case.

The new downwind pollution rule was triggered by a federal court throwing out a previous Bush administration regulation. The Bush-era rule has remained in effect while the courts have weighed challenges to the latest version, and EPA officials said the Bush rule would remain in place while they digested the Supreme Court's opinion.

The new rule would cost power plant operators $800 million annually, starting in 2014, according to EPA estimates. Some $1.6 billion per year has been spent to comply with the 2005 Bush rule.

The EPA says the investments would be far outweighed by the hundreds of billions of dollars in health care savings from cleaner air. The agency said the rule would prevent more than 30,000 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of illnesses each year.

"The Supreme Court today laid to rest the well-worn issue of how to regulate air pollution that is transported hundreds of miles throughout the eastern U.S. and that makes it nearly impossible for states acting alone to protect the health and welfare of their citizens," said Bill Becker, the executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, which represents air pollution control agencies in 45 states and territories and 116 major metropolitan areas nationwide.

Texas led 14 states and industry groups in challenging the rule. Most downwind states support it.

States had argued, and the lower court had agreed, that they deserved a chance to figure out how much they were contributing to pollution in other states and how to reduce it before the EPA prescribed fixes. The lower court also faulted the EPA for requiring states to reduce pollution through a complex formula based on cost that did not exactly match how much downwind pollution a state was responsible for.

Agreeing with the EPA, Ginsburg wrote that the realities of interstate air pollution "are not so simple." She wrote, "Most upwind states contribute to pollution to multiple downwind states in varying amounts."

The lower court will still have to decide if the EPA acted properly when it rejected state plans that had been approved under an earlier version of the rule.

Opponents of the decision Tuesday said it violated the intent of the Clean Air Act, which envisions states and the EPA working cooperatively to reduce air pollution.

"The Supreme Court majority has refused to allow the states to have any voice in the practicalities of determining the impact of their emissions on neighboring states," said Richard Faulk, senior director at George Mason Law School's Energy and Environment Initiative.

As for legal grounds, Scalia said the majority had "zero textual basis" in the Clean Air Act for justifying the EPA's approach, and he mocked its analysis as "Look Ma, no hands!"

Ginsburg said Scalia's approach would result in "costly overregulation" and called it "both inefficient and inequitable."




the loser in chief has already insured electric rates are going to sky rocket because of his "war on coal", this will just be the icing on the cake

Licorice Schtick

Nonsense. You say it's either dirty energy or high prices, and that's a false choice. Coal is the worst choice right now.

Electric utility monopolies will charge whatever they can get away with, through "campaign contributions" and whatever other means necessary to whomever necessary. "Deregulating" these monopolies was idiocy and the ratepayers are being robbed.

Electric utilities fight renewable energy. First Energy had to be sued to get them to follow the law and not steal from owners of wind and solar installations.

Rates should be structured to reward conservation, but the opposite is true, because the utilities make more money when people waste energy.

Meanwhile, the power delivery system falls apart. Distribution infrastructure is dangerous, unreliable, and UGLY. A wayward squirrel or bird can bring down entire neighborhoods. Repeatedly. But instead of fixing it, greedy executives increase dividends without justification, inflating the stock prices, and then pay themselves fat dividends. Their stocks' market caps are absurd, driven by little else than their ability to rip off consumers.

Consumers want clean, reliable energy at fair prices. Stop the electric utility thieves. Get money out of politics.


The opposite is not true because wind and solar will NEVER provide the amount of energy nuclear or coal fired plants can. The feel good energy sources are more expensive because it costs more to generate electricity using them, if not for government subsidies they wouldn't even exist.

Licorice Schtick

So you favor nukes, too? Are you just in favor of dirty energy and against clean energy? Coal and nukes can only work with cost externalities, the costs they cause but don't pay. Do you think Fukushima, with its incalculable costs, will be the last nuclear disaster? Worse is not just possible, it's probable, and of all people, those who live in the shadow of the creaking Davis-Besse should be cognizant of that.

The fossil-fuel industry categorically opposes renewable energy, for selfish reasons, and relies upon dupes like you to further their greedy cause.

The electric utilities categorically oppose solar power because it threatens their monopoly by empowering people to produce their own electricity, and relies upon dupes like you to further their greedy cause.


Come back and argue your point when solar and wind can survive on their own without government subsidies, until then you have no argument.

Also, don't start in with the government subsidizing big oil because that's a fallacy the lefties want people to believe. Liberals try to portray expenditure write offs as government subsidies when in fact they are the same write offs every business is allowed to use, the only difference is their write offs are much larger because they are spending massive amounts of money.


Renewable energy subsidies should continue for at least as long as nonrenewable energy production has. Considering that the later still receives them that may be indefinitely.


Please see my post below regarding oil and gas "subsidies" what many who are against fossil fuels want to convince everyone of is that there are massive subsidies for the oil and gas industry, that's not the case. The oil and gas industry is allowed the same tax breaks as any other business, they spend 100s of millions of dollars on exploration, recovery, and refinery and are allowed to write off those expenses, it's not a subsidy.

The renewables get money directly from the government to stay competitive and stay afloat, there's a big difference between these two things.

The Big Dog's back

vc, where's your proof in your "post below"?


Vcreed: Beats the heck out of the GOP's "war on clean air". Call me silly, but I believe that being able to breathe, and not having to inhale known carcinogens is important.

I think we all know that electric companies should do the right thing on their own, and make sure they don't pollute. They, of course, won't and don't do that, because it would cut into their million dollar profits, and basically because they don't care how many people they kill or injure in the process.

So, it's left to us to force them - via regulation - to do that. What REALLY stinks is that they pass that cost on to us, through higher rates. Essentially, they are taxing us an extra amount each month to pay for our own protection. That's called greed, and that ain't Obama's fault, friend.


Ummm, forcing companies to comply with "ESTIMATED" data is definitely Obama's fault and if they are forced to do that, why wouldn't they pass the cost to the customer? It's not an arbitrary rate increase they just decided to do, had the EPA stayed out of it rates wouldn't go up. Obama keeps talking about protecting the middle class but all of his rules only hurt lower and middle income people.

As for corporate greed you like to refer to, apparently you don't know how utility rates are decided here in Ohio. The Ohio PUCO decides if, when, and how much a utility company can charge it's customers, they have very little say in what their profit margins are. If you want to blame someone for your rates contact the PUCO.

The Big Dog's back

The almighty dollar is always, always the bottom line for these right wingnuts.


Do you mean the PUCO since they control the rates? and do you know what a wing nut is? It's actually two words not one and I don't see how a wing nut applies to this discussion

The Big Dog's back

vc = right wingnut.


I get it, you're not here to actually discuss anything you just like using the term "wingnut" (which isn't even a word)


BD aka Piddle Puppy gives bumper sticker, one line posts. He will rarely do a copy and pastse from a far left blog or website while not citing where it came from. Discussions are not in his repertoire. His speciality is drive by one or two line name calling.


The Poor just got poorer.


After reading a few of the conservative accounts above, I think it would be more accurate to say that "the poor just got dumber".


Do you think this is going to help those you claim to want to help that are already living paycheck to snap card?
Seriously how do you live with yourself being a hypocrite like that? If you want to talk about "Dumber" Look no further than your own party. The coal unions are all Democrat, They vote for a guy named Rockefeller and Obama who swear they will kill the Coal industry and cause energy cost to skyrocket yet believe its in their best interest.
I wonder when you will learn your party cares nothing for you and only care to gouge you for money to pay off their friends. My guess is never your a lost cause.


coasterfan is just one of the many sheeple that's probably on the government dole. Folks like himself just don't understand, they are aggravated with their current state of finances and just want to blame others for being greedy as a way to justify their lack of success or poor financial state.

Darwin's choice

Correct!!! On his second or third wife/boyfriend, travel agent/teacher/bullchitter/liar/troll, and absolutely on the government dole!!!


Time to trade in the ol Prius for something electric there coasterfan?

Peninsula Pundit

"Today's decision feeds the uncontrolled growth of the administrative state at the expense of government by the people."
This from the jackanapes who say that corporations are people.
They don't give one good bowel movement about the people.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

"The EPA says the investments would be far outweighed by the hundreds of billions of dollars in health care savings from cleaner air. The agency said the rule would prevent more than 30,000 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of illnesses each year."

How is this even measured with any credibility. Does anyone have on their death certificate "downwind energy plant pollution" as the cause? I can make up a bunch of numbers too and dress them up as credible. I'm no captain planet villain but I am highly suspicious about this estimate and claim.

The Bizness

Epidemiological studies can show the numbers. While pollution won't be on the death certificate something associated with asthma or another disease that was worsened by pollution will be.


These epidemiologic studies you speak of, as far as I've read show only loose correlation, not causation. There is no way to prove definitively that an individuals health problems were caused by pollution, even these studies show that.


As with most EPA "estimates" these numbers are BS, it's impossible to quantify rates of death on something like this because they have no idea how someone lived their life, if they had preexisting conditions, how long they've lived in a particular place etc. In my industry EPA estimates are normally somewhere around 10X higher than the actual numbers, but you can't sensationalize data that's NOT destroying the universe or killing people.


Re: "How is this even measured with any credibility. Does anyone have on their death certificate "downwind energy plant pollution" as the cause? I can make up a bunch of numbers too and dress them up as credible. I'm no captain planet villain but I am highly suspicious about this estimate and claim."

I can understand the ruling... if the loss can be proven with numbers that show actual loss, not estimated, not clai,ed with it wouldn't have happened if, it has to be shown that the coal burners actually caused loss.

If a company causes harm or loss, it is responsible, to make it whole again. But the loss has to be proven by things that can be touched or documented... not guessed at. Such as a pond or lake can be proven to have harm caused by emissions from a power plant if records exisit from a time before the power plant ran of the chemical compisition of the water and the changes in it if they are linked to the power plant. If their is not direct proof... not so much.

But from what little is written about what the decision actually covers I have no idea what it actually means.


Hero: if we have to explain to you how inhaling carcinogens causes injury/death, then you are truly are beyond reasoning with. Your silly point-of-view was put to rest 40+ years ago.

You are certainly a true Republican. You don't care if other people die, just as long as it isn't you or your family, and just as long as long as it doesn't hurt your wallet, right?


Still getting your data transfer from Obama's anal probe I see. Please cite one study that shows causation that downwind pollution is the cause of injury/death for all these poor liberal souls on the eastern seaboard. I don't expect you to respond since the hit and run is the only thing you seem to be good at.


How can they tell where to insert it? The same $#&% comes out both ends of him/her/it.


Carbon Dioxide is a greenhouse gas that is also poisonous to humans. That does not seem to bother you liberal fruitcakes from spewing hundreds if not millions of tons of it into the air everyday praising,Defending or just out and out lying about your god and his policies.
As for caring about whether or not people die, You liberals are actually wanting the government to kill citizens with drones and force if they disagree with you (Not to mention Abortion and Euthanasia to the old, look up progressives sometime and then see who you want elected). Not only are you the laughingstock of these post you are quickly becoming the poster child of what mental illness looks like.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

Your cold, callous name-calling does little to endear you or the political party you loudly represent to myself or others. My question has nothing to do with the presumptive question you asked me especially after I said in my statement that I'm not a cartoonish Captain Planet villain.

You also never addressed my question in your answer. How is this measured? Proven? Why are there no links to reports? Your response appears to be in reaction to a scenario where we seemingly have no regulations over emissions at all such as smoke stack height requirements, scrubbers, or for coal, the mandated washing of the coal before burning it. The detergent for that requirement, by the by, is what spilled in West Virginia poisoning the river there (and let's not forget the foam insulation for our most recent shuttle disaster was more brittle because of environmental requirements in manufacture).

How can an agency directly link interstate emissions (which are already scrubbed, fuel washed, scrubbers in place, etc.) to these problems with tangible figures or direct health savings/costs in the billions? My contention isn't with the burning, it is the figures used to support the point.

As you are a logical man and former teacher perhaps you can explain it. I understand you don't believe in God because you can't sense it for yourself. Yet you believe in these numbers how? Where is the hard, scientific, irrefutable infographic on "billions spent/to be saved due to direct inhalation of interstate smokestack emissions"?

The Big Dog's back

hz, you outdid yourself for stupidest comment of the year.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

How? Please explain your idea.


Now if we could just get a ban on the CRAP that comes out of the White House.


If we could stop the huge emission of CO2 from the politicians in Washington we could get rid of global warming.


The EPA has run rampant!


Yes, shame on the EPA for making sure we have clean air to breathe. What where they thinking?!?!?


You have a strong opinion on this, does it come from your personal dealings with the EPA or is it strictly a leftist point of view? I'm not asking to start an argument, I genuinely would like to know.


Don't bother with coastnut, he just got his daily upload from the Obamaprobe. Coaster believes the government is the solution to all of societies ills, despite history which shows it to be the cause of most ills.

Dr. Information

These stats are amusing. Its all guessing and thats it.