US Supreme Court halts EPA regulation aimed at reducing air pollution in Midwest states

On Thursday, the Supreme Court blocked a rule issued by the Biden administration in 2020 that aimed to limit the amount of ozone generated by power plants and industrial sites located in the Midwest. The rule was designed to prevent polluted air from drifting towards the East Coast.

In a close 5-4 decision, Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the three liberal justices in dissenting.

As per the Clean Air Act, the “good neighbor” rule mandates that sources of air pollution in “upwind states” must take measures to minimize it if it is impacting the air quality in “downwind states,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA’s recent update has focused on implementing stricter regulations in 23 states, which includes California to a certain extent.

However, the implementation of the rule faced a legal dispute between the Republican-led states and the Democratic administration.

The EPA’s determination that its air pollution standards were inadequate has been reversed by U.S. appeals courts, led by Texas, in rulings that were won by twelve states.

The new rule was kept at bay by these decisions made to protect the states.

Despite facing opposition, the EPA remained steadfast in its efforts to implement the “good neighbor” rule in the Midwest states that were still awaiting exemptions.

According to the Biden administration, implementing a delay as ordered by the court would cause severe harm to the downwind states that are adversely affected by the emissions from their upwind neighbors. This would result in putting the entire responsibility of achieving healthy air quality on those states, thereby exposing their residents to various public health risks.

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The states of Ohio, Indiana, and West Virginia have directly approached the Supreme Court, requesting an order to prevent the EPA’s rule from being implemented, at least temporarily.

According to their statement, the Clean Air Act entrusts the responsibility for ensuring air quality to the states, and they are urging the Supreme Court to prevent the EPA from overstepping its bounds. They also expressed concern that the EPA’s stricter regulations would negatively impact their industries and result in a decrease in electricity production, leading to unstable power grids.

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, in his statement, emphasized that the primary responsibility of developing compliance plans lies with the states, and therefore, the EPA is not authorized to question the emission limitation choices made by a state, as quoted, “Because the states bear primary responsibility for developing compliance plans, EPA has no authority to question the wisdom of a state’s choices of emission limitations.”

The Supreme Court took an unprecedented procedural step due to the unique legal standing of the case. Typically, the justices wait for a federal judge and a U.S. appeals court to rule on a matter before agreeing to review it.

The case of Ohio vs. EPA was unique as the justices made a decision to hear arguments and write a verdict before any lower court had ruled on the new regulation.

The state of California was not heavily involved in the clean-air dispute as the recent EPA rule only had an impact on power plants outside of the state. Nevertheless, the rule is set to be enforced on industrial sites starting in 2026.

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