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Posted by on May 2, 2014 in Environment, Featured, Law | 2 comments

Supreme Court Backs Coal Pollution Regulations

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During his years in office, President Obama has done his best to make the United States a greener and cleaner place to live. One of his initiatives has been to reduce the amount of carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. Many of these plants in the Midwest and Appalachian regions give off dangerous pollutants and smog. According to the Wall Street Journal, coal-fired plants cause toxic air pollution in 28 U.S. states, since wind pushes the chemicals across state lines. Thus, President Obama proposed amendments to the Clean Air Act that would cut emissions from the plants. These amendments were released in 2011 and became known as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

While many have praised President Obama’s environmental initiatives, some Republicans have dubbed the reform a war on coal. Homer City, a town in Pennsylvania’s Indiana Country, actually took the Environmental Protection Agency to court over the regulations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit initially ruled in favor of Homer City, stating that the EPA could not force states to reduce emissions regardless of how much it may cost. However, the proposed additions to the Clean Air Act were later taken to the Supreme Court. In a recent 6-2 decision, the Court upheld the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Here is a brief summary of why the court ruled the way it did, and how the legislation will affect environmental initiatives in the future.

Good Neighbor Policy

One of the major reasons for the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule was that although air pollution may occur in one state, it can spread to many others through a downward wind current. This can cause states that are environmentally responsible to still have a lot of air pollution. For example, 93 percent of ozone pollution in New Haven, Conn., comes from outside the state. In fact, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, emissions from 1,000 coal-fired plants affect the air quality of 240 million Americans. This means that significant pollution from just a few sources can dramatically decrease the air quality of over half the country.

The Downside of the Decision

The potential downside to the Supreme Court’s decision is that many coal plants may not be able to afford the improvements needed to reduce cross-state air pollution. The fear is many plants may go bankrupt or at the very least be severely set back in their business. The negative impacts of the legislation on coal-fired plants could be far-reaching.

For example, a plant initially may be able to pay for the improvements, but down the road it may not have enough money for new CAT equipment or an access lift repair. This could set some small plants back far enough that they are no longer able to compete with larger plants, and eventually will go under. A company going out of business is never a good thing for the economy, and the demise of coal plants could leave thousands of Americans without a job.

Positive Impact for the Future

The upside of the ruling is it shows the Supreme Court is dedicated to making the United States a cleaner and safer place for us all to live. Clean air can have a big impact on public health. According to the EPA, air pollutants can cause a number of ailments. Ground-level ozone, the most pervasive of the six air pollutants recognized by the EPA, can significantly limit lung function and cause respiratory inflammation. This occurs not only in asthmatics and people with impaired respiratory function, but also in healthy people. Exposure to ground-level ozone, even in low concentrations, can cause real damage to our respiratory systems. Other pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, can cause lung-tissue damage, cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, cancer and premature death.

In addition to being good for our health, the Supreme Court’s decision sets a precedent for the EPA to have greater control over emissions and pollution. In the future, more legislation regulating pollution may be passed and upheld in the court. This will likely be beneficial to human health and the environment.

Even though the regulations may hurt the coal business, do you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision? Do you think being environmentally conscious or keeping businesses alive is more important?

Image by Sam Howzit