Supreme Court blocks EPA regulation of interstate air pollution

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked a Biden administration environmental regulation aimed at reducing harmful air pollution that travels from state to state and contributes to smog.

In doing so, the court, by a vote of 5-4, granted the requests of three Republican-led states – Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia – and various affected industries, including natural gas pipeline operators.

Conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett sided with the court’s three liberals who disagreed with the outcome.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s rule applied to 23 states, although lower court rulings meant it was already blocked in 12 of them.

The Supreme Court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, is skeptical of the large-scale exercise of federal power over regulatory issues, including the environment.

As a result, he is receptive to legal challenges launched by Republican attorneys general and industry groups that have long complained about the EPA’s aggressive use of its regulatory powers.

The EPA’s “Good Neighbor Plan” was announced last year to reduce nitrogen oxide pollution from industrial facilities. If fully implemented, it would apply to 23 “downwind” states whose emissions can contribute to pollution in “downwind” states.

The EPA said the plan, based on a requirement of the Clean Air Act, would help prevent premature deaths, reduce emergency room visits and reduce asthma symptoms by limiting the amount of smog.

Generally, states have the flexibility to develop their own pollution control plans. Each state is required under the Clean Air Act to be a “good neighbor,” meaning it must address pollution that may contribute to other states failing to meet their own obligations.

The EPA can step in to pass its own plan, which happened last year. All three states have complained about the federal government’s approach, saying in part they didn’t have enough time to develop their own plans.

In two other major environmental cases recently brought before the Supreme Court, the EPA lost both times.

In 2022, the court limited the agency’s ability to use the Clean Air Act to combat emissions that contribute to climate change. Last year, the court weakened the landmark Clean Water Act by limiting EPA regulatory oversight of wetlands.

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