A federal appeals court unanimously struck down a signature component of President Bush’s clean air policies Friday, dealing a blow to environmental groups and probably delaying further action until the next administration.
The regulation, known as the Clean Air Interstate Rule, required 28 mostly Eastern states to reduce smog-forming and soot-producing emissions that can travel long distances in the wind. The Environmental Protection Agency predicted that it would prevent about 17,000 premature deaths a year.
North Carolina and some electric power producers opposed aspects of the regulation, and President Bush found himself with some unusual allies.
“This is the rare case where environmental groups went to court alongside the Bush administration,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a group that has criticized other Bush administration policies.
The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the EPA had overstepped its authority. It said the Clean Air Act did not give the EPA the authority to change pollution standards the way it had. Citing “more than several fatal flaws,” the court scrapped the entire regulation.
“This is without a doubt the worst news of the year when it comes to air pollution,” O’Donnell said.
The EPA said the rule would have dramatically reduced sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions, saving up to $100 billion in health benefits.
The ruling was somewhat of a surprise, even to North Carolina and industry groups that had challenged aspects of the law.
Although North Carolina Atty. Gen. Roy Cooper said he was glad the court agreed “we need tougher rules to clean up and protect the air we breathe,” his spokeswoman, Noelle Talley, said his office did not think the entire rule regulation needed to be scrapped.
William M. Bumpers, an attorney representing Entergy Corp., said that a few electric power companies flatly opposed the regulation but most generally favored it because it included cap-and-trade provisions.
Such provisions allow companies that exceed emissions caps to buy credits from companies that do not.
“The power-generating industry had already invested billions and billions of dollars in anticipation of the trading market,” Bumpers said. “They’re not happy with this development.”