Supreme Court won’t hear EPA air pollution case

The Supreme Court declined Monday to hear a case on how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforces air pollution rules.

In the case, Ohio v. Sierra Club, Ohio maintains that a state does not need to submit a plan to reduce pollution levels after being found to violate the maximum level under EPA rules if the concentration drops to an acceptable level before it submits its plan. The EPA agrees with Ohio’s interpretation.

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It’s a major win for the Sierra Club, since the Supreme Court’s action lets stand the 2015 ruling from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

That court sided with the Sierra Club’s argument that under the Clean Air Act’s provisions regarding “reasonably available control measures,” the EPA ought to have demanded a pollution control plan from Ohio before it declared that the state complied with the pollution rules.

The dispute stems from the EPA’s 2011 declaration that the Cincinnati area was in “attainment” with the 1997 regulation limiting the allowable amount of particulate matter in ambient air.

The EPA had previously said in 2005 that the area was in “non-attainment,” triggering a requirement that Ohio write a plan, and EPA approve it, to reduce the particulate matter output from its sources, like the power sector and vehicles.

But thanks largely to another pollution control program, Cincinatti’s particulate matter levels dropped below the 1997 requirement in the ensuing years. Ohio asked that the area be certified as “attainment” despite the lack of an actual plan to reduce pollution, which the EPA granted.

The Sierra Club sued, leading the Sixth Circuit to reject the EPA’s decision. Ohio appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the EPA’s actions were well within the bounds of the law.

In the court battle, the EPA stood by its decision and said the Sixth Circuit was wrong to overturn it. But it ask the Supreme Court not to take the case, saying in a filing that that “the practical significance of the court of appeals’ error and the conflict in authority, however, does not appear to be sufficient to warrant the Court’s review at this time.”