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Court finds EPA skirted air laws with 'pernicious loophole'

Court finds EPA skirted air laws with 'pernicious loophole'
© Greg Nash

Environmentalists won their battle challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation of Pennsylvania’s air quality, with the court ruling the agency used a “pernicious loophole” when greenlighting laxer standards for coal-fired power plants.

The suit from the Sierra Club against the EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection challenged a permit governing the state’s air quality standards. The group argued power plants in the state were capable of meeting much tougher standards than what had been agreed to by the two agencies.

The court called the reasoning behind different elements of the permit “questionable individually,” adding that “joined together they are decidedly worse than the sum of their parts.”

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The three judge panel for the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals also took the agency to task for failing to weigh data showing five plants in the state were capable of much greater pollution reductions. 

“Even more disquieting, the EPA ignores its own Air Markets Program Data showing that all five Pennsylvania power plants noted above have actually achieved much greater reductions,” the court wrote.

The EPA told The Hill it was reviewing the decision.

“The court said EPA's action was 'arbitrary & capricious' — one of worst ways for agencies to break the law,” John Walke, a Clean Air Act attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote on Twitter. “The impressively deep ruling catalogues a greatest hits of manipulations to sanction illegally higher pollution standards that would not require additional reductions from dirty coal plants.”