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From February 28, 2001

EPA's Clean-Air Authority Upheld by Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously yesterday that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not need to consider the economic impact on industry when creating new clean air standards, rejecting industry's arguments that the health benefits of cleaner air must be balanced against the costs of compliance, according to an article appearing in the Washington Post (click here for the full article). The ruling upheld the language of the 1970 Clean Air Act, which, in the court's opinion as stated by Justice Antonin Scalia, "unambiguously bars cost considerations from the [clean air standard]-setting process, and thus ends the matter for us as well as the EPA."

The EPA stated that the new standards were necessary to protect 125 million people from adverse health effects, and would result in the prevention of 350,000 cases of aggravates asthma and 15,000 premature deaths. EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman called the decision "a solid endorsement of the EPA's efforts to protect the health of millions of Americans form the dangers of air pollution."

The court, however, also ruled that, while the EPA had authority to set new rules in regard to ground-level ozone (smog), its policy for implementing them violated the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. The court ordered the agency to develop a more "reasonable" interpretation of the law, holding that they had unreasonably tried to give heavily polluted parts of the country less time to clean up their air than Congress had intended.

The ruling is a clear setback for industry, and a crucial victory for environmental groups. "For 30 years the Clean Air Act air pollution standards have been based on public health needs - not a company's balance sheet," said David Hawkins, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Air and Energy Program. "The Supreme Court today resoundingly declared that the Clean Air Act means just that, clean air."