A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) acid rain prevention rule, dismissing a challenge from a green group that had pushed for new, tougher standards.
The EPA decided in 2012 that it needed to further study limiting nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides in the air before it could write any new regulations on the pollutants. The Center for Biological Diversity challenged that delay, saying the agency was obligated to issue proposed standards without additional time.
The District of Columbia Court of Appeals, though, disagreed, and said the Clean Air Act gives the EPA a great deal of freedom in how it writes regulations.
“It is ridiculous to suppose that the Clean Air Act required EPA to promulgate a secondary standard that would immediately violate the act,” the court wrote. “Yet that is where petitioners’ arguments lead.”
The EPA designed a complex algorithm for nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide limits that would have been tailored to dozens of regions around the country. But the EPA decided not to put it in place after officials said they could not be certain the algorithm would work.
Both pollutants come mostly from fossil fuel combustion in vehicles, power plants and industrial operations. The EPA already has limits on the pollutants, as well as a cap-and-trade program for industrial emissions of the compounds.
The court cited the Clean Air Act’s requirement that the EPA set air quality standards that are “requisite to protect the public welfare” to conclude that the agency’s decision was within the law.
“If, as EPA found, the available information was insufficient to permit a reasoned judgment about whether any proposed standard would be ‘requisite to protect the public welfare,’ promulgating that standard would have been arbitrary and capricious,” the court wrote.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the agency is pleased with the ruling.
The Center for Biological Diversity was disappointed, said Kassie Siegel, the group’s head attorney for climate law.
“It’s always nicer to win of course, but the good news is that EPA has to take a fresh look at this issue every five years,” Siegel said. “So the EPA has another change to put the Clean Air Act’s successful pollution reduction programs to work on this very serious problem of acid rain.”
The American Petroleum Institute (API) intervened in the case to support EPA.
“We are pleased that the court did not require EPA to proceed with the ill-advised, scientifically unsupported secondary air quality standard for nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide,” API spokesman Carlton Carroll said in a statement.