Court rejects challenge to EPA's ozone powers

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A federal court is siding with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), saying it has wide latitude when enforcing limits on ground-level ozone pollution.

In an 87-page opinion covering numerous challenges from states and outside groups, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit repeatedly refused to overturn decisions the EPA made regarding areas of the country that exceed mandated ozone levels.

States the EPA labels as being in “nonattainment” with the 2008 ozone regulation must work to reduce the levels of ozone pollution, a byproduct of using fossil fuel.

The ruling reinforces the EPA’s position that it has broad power to enforce ozone rules, so long as the agency can show that it reasonably complies with the law.

The decision could prove important as the EPA works to further restrict the ozone levels, which it plans to do later this year.

“Virtually every petitioner argues that, for one reason or another, the EPA acted arbitrarily and capriciously in making its final [air quality] designations,” the judges wrote unanimously in their Tuesday response to 19 lawsuits.

“But because the EPA complied with the Constitution, reasonably interpreted the [Clean Air] Act’s critical terms and wholly satisfied — indeed, in most instances, surpassed — its obligation to engage in reasoned decision-making, we deny the consolidated petitions for review in their entirety,” the court said.

Connecticut and Delaware fought for the EPA to designate a large swatch of the East Coast as being under nonattainment, and environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club wanted stricter enforcement as well.

Mississippi, Indiana and Texas, meanwhile, challenged the EPA’s designation of certain nonattainment areas within their borders.

EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia welcomed the decision.

“The agency is pleased with this decision, and will continue to work with states toward implementing ozone standards to protect public health, as required by the Clean Air Act,” she said in a statement.

The 2008 ozone rule set the allowable level at 75 parts per billion.

In November 2014, the EPA proposed to reduce the level to between 65 and 70 parts per billion, a controversial plan that Republicans, energy companies and other business groups have said would be the most expensive regulation in United States history.

The EPA prevailed in two other decisions from the D.C. Circuit court Tuesday.

The court affirmed an EPA decision not to renew a fuel refinery’s exemption to the ethanol blending mandate and said carbon dioxide injected underground as part of the carbon sequestration process was correctly labeled as “solid waste” under EPA rules.