Court Upholds Block on Pollution Rules

Both sides are claiming victory after a federal court reaffirmed a decision blocking EPA from imposing tougher air pollution controls on smog and soot.

Both sides are claiming victory after a federal court reaffirmed a decision blocking the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from imposing tougher air pollution controls on smog and soot.

In a split decision Oct. 29, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia kept in place a May decision by a three-judge panel that overturned new pollution regulations imposed in 1997. That year, President Clinton directed EPA to issue the tougher standards, which require states to meet more stringent reductions in smog-causing ozone and in microscopic soot.

The new regulations were considered among the most controversial ever issued by EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner and drew strong opposition from business and industry groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Once again, the court agreed with American businesses that EPA standards were simply pulled out of thin air and are not based on science," said Thomas J. Donahue, U.S. Chamber's president and chief executive officer. "It's a victory for all businesses and a blow to EPA's efforts to extend its regulatory fingers where they don't belong."

EPA estimates that the cost of compliance for businesses would be $45 million a year. That would be a "crushing federal mandate" on U.S. businesses, the Chamber said.

While it appears the ruling, which EPA hopes will be taken to the U.S. Supreme Court, is a setback for environmental and health advocates, Browner does not see it that way. She noted that five of nine judges agreed the nation's clean air standards are constitutional. Because the court has 11 members, two of whom did not participate in the decision, those five were not in the majority.

"EPA continues to stand by the need for stronger air quality and public health protections," Browner said. "While we're disappointed in the decision, we are encouraged that five of the nine judges who actually reviewed the case agreed with EPA's argument."

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