Justices take up air pollution rules

The Supreme Court will review a lower court decision that nullified Environmental Protection Agency rules aimed at cutting soot- and smog-forming power plant emissions that cross state lines.

Monday’s announcement provides new hope for the EPA and green groups that suffered a big defeat in 2012 when an appeals court nixed the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, a pillar of the Obama administration’s air pollution agenda.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the rule in August 2012, ruling that the regulation exceeded the EPA’s powers under the Clean Air Act to force pollution cuts in upwind states.

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The appellate decision was a victory for industry groups, some states and GOP lawmakers, who alleged the rule would create economic burdens and force the closure of substantial numbers of coal-fired power plants.

But the Supreme Court’s agreement to examine the rule, depending on the outcome, could breathe new life into the regulation.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of the groups that urged the high court to take the case, called the announcement “welcome news for the millions of Americans afflicted by harmful air pollution from power plants.”

“The Cross State Rule is firmly anchored in science and law, and will ensure healthier and longer lives for 240 million Americans. We look forward to presenting this compelling case for clean air to the high court,” said Vickie Patton, EDF’s general counsel, in a statement.

But the appellate judges, in the 2-1 August 2012 decision, said the rule allows the EPA to “impose massive emissions reduction requirements on upwind states without regard to the limits imposed by the statutory text.”

The EPA, when finalizing the rule in the summer of 2011, said substantially cutting sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions would bring public health benefits that far outstrip the projected costs.

The agency estimated that the rule, when phased in, would prevent up to 34,000 premature deaths; 15,000 nonfatal heart attacks and 19,000 cases of acute bronchitis annually.

The rules would force emissions cuts in more than two dozen states in the eastern half of the country.