The U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the Clean Air Act as EPA had interpreted it in setting the 1997 health-protective ambient air standards for ground-level ozone (smog) and particulates (soot).
"The Supreme Court issued a solid endorsement of EPA''s efforts to protect the health of millions of Americans from the dangers of air pollution, and affirmed our constitutional authority to set these kinds of health protection standards in the future," said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. "Congress delegated to EPA the standard-setting function and EPA carried it out appropriately."
The high court upheld EPA''s long-standing position that the Clean Air Act requires EPA to set these standards based solely on public health considerations without consideration of costs.
Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club are hailing the Supreme Court ruling as a major victory for the Clean Air Act.
"The Supreme Court stood up to protect the more than 100 million Americans who continue to breathe unhealthy air," said Ed Hopkins, director of Sierra Club''s Environmental Quality Program. "The 1997 soot and smog standards upheld by the court today will provide greater protection to children and people with asthma and other lung diseases, who are particularly vulnerable to dangerous soot and smog."
With respect to the new soot standard, the Supreme Court rejected all industry-led challenges.
"The new soot standard will save more than 10,000 lives each year," said Hopkins. "We urge EPA to move quickly to implement these vital standards."
Howard Fox, an attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, who represented the American Lung Association in the litigation, said, "Industry''s attempt to dilute public health protection has met with a resounding defeat. The Supreme Court''s decision vindicates what then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman said in her brief: industry''s argument was not only meritless, but ''boarders on the wholly frivolous.''"
The American Trucking Associations, which led the legal challenge against the EPA rules, responded to the decision by saying, "While the American Trucking Associations is clearly disappointed in the Supreme Court''s ruling, the Court did provide some guidance to reach that goal and ATA will now be looking to the Court of Appeals on remand as well as EPA to provide further guidance."
However, the legal wrangling may not be completely over.
Edward Warren, the attorney representing ATA and other business groups challenging the law, said the ozone and soot standards may still face challenges in lower court on different grounds than were considered by the Supreme Court.
"There is a good chance that both of these standards will fall," he said.
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) expressed "profound disappointment" in the Supreme Court''s decision.
"We are disappointed in the court''s decision not to find a constitutional problem where we thought one was clearly presented," said Michael Baroody, NAM executive vice president. "We had hoped that the court would find that EPA had usurped the power of Congress to make law when it substantially and arbitrarily lowered air quality standards."
He continued, "The NAM is determined to work with the White House and Congress to rein in regulatory excess by EPA and other agencies."
by Virginia Sutcliffe