Supreme Court Decision in Favor of the Cross State Air Pollution Rule Is a Major Win for Public Health

April 29, 2014 | 1:42 pm
Rachel Cleetus
Policy Director

Today’s Supreme Court ruling reinstating limits on sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) from coal-fired power plants, as required by the Cross State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), is a significant victory for our public health. The 6-2 decision makes clear that CSAPR’s provisions fully conform with the Clean Air Act and should be implemented as directed.

Cutting SO2 and NOx emissions from coal-fired power plants is critical to reducing soot and smog pollution, which cause numerous health problems including breathing difficulties, aggravation of asthma, and even premature death. Children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to these problems.

These pollutants are often carried long distances by the wind; consequently some of the biggest health effects may be experienced in states thousands of miles away from the original source of the emissions. As a result of winds blowing from west to east, states in the eastern U.S. have long had to contend with pollution from Midwestern states.

Almost three years ago, in July 2011, the EPA issued CSAPR to cut these harmful emissions, using the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” provision to limit pollution imposed on downwind states from those upwind. Fossil fuel interests and some states mounted strong opposition to the rule and sued the EPA to stop its implementation. In 2012 the D.C. Circuit Court blocked implementation of CSAPR.

Today’s Supreme Court ruling overturns the 2012 D.C. Circuit Court decision. It specifically states that “EPA’s cost-effective allocation of emission reductions among up-wind States is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor Provision.”

In 2011 EPA estimated that, by 2014, the rule would prevent an estimated 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths and 400,000 cases of aggravated asthma, providing $120 to $280 billion in annual health and environmental benefits. These benefits would be achieved at annual costs of $800 million due to the rule.

CSAPR, long delayed, will now go into effect and we will all breathe cleaner, safer air.