In one of the most important environmental and business decisions in decades, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected on Tuesday industry arguments that the federal government must consider cost and not just health benefits in setting national air pollution standards.
During the arguments, heard in early November, several Supreme Court justices expressed doubts about making EPA consider compliance costs in setting air quality limits.
A ruling by the justices was not expected until July of this year.
The high court''s unanimous ruling also said the section of the clean air law on which EPA relied in coming up with the standards did not amount to an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power.
But in a third part of the complex ruling, the court said EPA''s implementation policy for the ozone standard was unlawful and unreasonable, and that the agency must develop a reasonable interpretation.
With respect to the new soot standard, the Supreme Court rejected all industry-led challenges.
While the Court did not question the science behind the new smog standard it did, however, require the EPA to develop a new procedure to implement the standard.
As part of updating the Clean Air Act to reflect current scientific knowledge, President Clinton in 1997 announced new health-based air standards for soot and smog. Soon after the new health-based air quality standards were finalized in 1997, industry, led by the American Trucking Association, filed a lawsuit to halt these efforts to clean the air.
On May 14, 1999, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled against the EPA, leaving the fate of the new standards in limbo.
EPA says the clean air rules would save lives and billions of dollars in health costs by reducing air pollution. The agency has estimated the standards will protect 125 million Americans from adverse health effects from air pollution.
Attorneys representing industry groups opposed to the standards lowering smog and soot have said the rules would cost businesses nearly $50 billion a year.
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by Virginia Sutcliffe