04/30/2014 01:32 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Clean Air Ruling Strikes One Must-Do Off EPA's List


Folks in the Northeast, colloquially called the nation's "tailpipe" in environmental circles, can breathe a bit easier thanks to a court ruling upholding EPA's rule requiring dirty power plants like this one in Virginia to clean up their act to clear the air in downwind states. (Wikipedia)

We don't have to wait any longer. The Supreme Court says yes to regulating cross-state air pollution.

Back in November 2012, before the start of Obama's second term, TheGreenGrok proposed a list of three must-do items for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Dealing with Coal Ash

The three items could have been coal ash, coal ash and coal ash; they weren't. But dealing with coal ash -- the sludgy residue left over from burning coal in power plants -- was No. 1 on our list; EPA’s must-do was to make a determination on whether coal ash should be treated as a hazardous waste. Coal ash keeps making headlines along with leaks, spills and cleanups of coal ash, but we still await an EPA rule.

Improving Our Chemical Safety

Also on the list was to update the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA, the 1976 law that was supposed to keep Americans safe from harmful chemicals but has proved sorely inadequate because of loopholes and regulatory roadblocks written into it.

The Chemical Safety Improvement Act (S. 1009), a bill introduced by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), would reform TSCA, but do so imperfectly. Yet even a watered-down bill like this languishes in Congress with little to no hope of making it to the floor.

Meanwhile, Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) has recently updated his draft legislation for TSCA reform in the House, but like its previous version introduced earlier this year, the latest draft appears to have no teeth.

Cleaning up Cross-State Air Pollution

The other item on TheGreenGrok’s “Top Three Must-Do’s” was to properly regulate the emissions of air pollutants that drift over state lines and reduce air quality in other states.

In the past every regulation EPA has proposed to accomplish this has been struck down in court. These foiled efforts go all the way back to 2008 when the nation’s high court nixed the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), which had been promulgated three years earlier by the George W. Bush administration.

The last incarnation of this rule, called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, was finalized in July of 2011, but was overturned in August 2012 by the DC Circuit Court who concluded [pdf], "that EPA's actions exceeded the Agency's statutory authority" granted in the Clean Air Act.

After all these years, it seemed to TheGreenGrok that our government needed to find a way to get every state in the union to be a “good neighbor” and work together to prevent air pollution without the courts crying foul. So we included "Implement[ing] a 'Transport Rule' that can survive the courts” as one of our top three items for EPA to accomplish.

As of Tuesday morning, we can check this must-do item off our EPA must-do list. But not because of anything the EPA did per se (other than argue in court), but because of the Supreme Court. In a 6-2 decision handed down yesterday in Environmental Protection Agency et al. V. EME Homer City Generation, L. P., et al., the nation’s highest court upheld the agency's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

So hats off to the Supreme Court, and may the folks in the Northeast find themselves breathing a little easier sooner rather than later. As for the other two must-do's? EPA, please don't keep me waitin'!

Further Reading

The Supreme Court decision [pdf] (written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg)

"In Victory for Obama, Court Backs Rules for Coal Pollution," New York Times, April 29, 2014.

“Supreme court upholds EPA’s air pollution rule,”, April 29, 2014.

“High court revives rule on air pollution,” Reuters, April 29, 2014.

Cross-State Air Pollution Rule – Basic Information -

Cross-State Air Pollution Rule – Where You Live –

Keep up with TheGreenGrok | Find us on Facebook