The Supreme Court handed the Environmental Protection Agency a big win this week, upholding its approach to fighting pollution produced by coal-fired power plants that wafts across state lines.

The justices ruled 6-2 to validate the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (Transport Rule), which seeks to curb emissions of nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide in 28 states.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the law in August 2012 after a group of upwind states along with local governments and industry challenged the fairness of the law.

But the high court ruled that the EPA acted within its purview to find a reasonable solution. The justices seemed to sympathize with EPA’s plight in translating the Clean Air Act’s good neighbor provision—requirements concerning the transport of air pollution across state boundaries—into workable policy.

“Most upwind states propel pollutants to more than one downwind state, many downwind states receive pollution from multiple upwind states, and some states qualify as both upwind and downwind,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority. “The overlapping and interwoven linkages between upwind and downwind states with which EPA had to contend number in the thousands.”

Given those challenges, Ginsburg added, the EPA’s Transport Rule—a successor to the EPA’s 2005 Clean Air Interstate Rule—is both an “efficient and equitable solution.”

“Efficient because EPA can achieve the same levels of attainment, i.e., of emission reductions… at a much lower overall cost,” she wrote. “Equitable because, by imposing uniform cost thresholds on regulated States, EPA’s rule subjects to stricter regulation those States that have done less in the past to control their pollution.”

Downwind states, including Maryland, praised the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I applaud the strong decision by the Supreme Court that reaffirms the EPA’s role in protecting our children from cross-state air pollution,” U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “It doesn’t take a scientist to understand that air pollution doesn’t stop at a state borderline. Maryland, despite having some of the strictest clean air rules in the country, continues to suffer from dirty air—and the resulting harm to public health—because of pollution from other states.”

Maryland is located on the front line of the Ozone Transport Region. Incessant vehicle traffic along the Northeast Corridor combined with air emissions from power plants and industrial facilities located throughout the Midwest and Southern regions of the U.S. dump tons of ozone and fine particle pollution in the state’s air, leading to smog and soot.

According to the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2014,” the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. metropolitan area was one of 25 in the nation experiencing increasingly worse ozone pollution.

On most bad air days, Cardin said, somewhere between 50 percent and 75 percent of Maryland’s air pollution originates in an upwind state.

The low air quality has contributed to the more than 2 million Marylanders that suffer from respiratory and cardio vascular diseases like asthma, emphysema, and diabetes, costing billions of dollars in health care costs and lost wages due to illnesses that lead to absences from work and school, according to the American Lung Association.

“It’s time for the excuses to end when it comes to polluters cleaning up their act,” Cardin said.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO