States in Power Struggle With EPA

Monday, March 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Supreme Court let the federal government enforce rules aimed at reducing air pollution that drifts from 19 states east of the Mississippi and helps cause smog downwind.

The court, without comment Monday, turned down arguments by seven states and a number of power companies that the rules were improperly set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

``It means the big power plants in the Midwest and Southeast states are going to have to clean up smog-forming pollution. That's going to mean a lot cleaner air in the entire eastern United States,'' said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the Washington-based environmental group Clean Air Trust.

A 1990 amendment to the Clean Air Act requires states to cut emissions that drift and cause pollution in other states. Much of the traveling smog problem has been blamed on tall utility smokestacks in the Midwest and South.

In 1998, the EPA issued a rule requiring 22 states and the District of Columbia to submit plans for reducing nitrogen oxide, an ingredient in smog, up to a cost of $2,000 per ton.

The states were Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

A number of states and utility companies challenged the rules. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia largely upheld them in March 2000, although it voided the rules for Wisconsin, Missouri and Georgia.

Seven states appealed to the Supreme Court, saying the EPA wrongly based the rules on the cost of reducing pollution. Those states were Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Alabama, West Virginia, Virginia and South Carolina.

``We do not deny that emissions that migrate downwind and cause pollution in other states create a problem that spills over state boundaries,'' said the appeal filed by Ohio and Indiana. But it said the EPA exceeded its authority in setting the rules.

Michigan's appeal said, ``It is clear that Congress required each state to eliminate its own significant contributions, regardless of the costs.'' The Appalachian Power Co. and other utilities also appealed.

The EPA's lawyers said it used the cost figures to develop ``a fair, practical and effective regulatory approach'' that ``equitably distributes the burdens borne by all the states that are contributors to this complex, regional problem.''

The EPA said the Clean Air Act allows it to consider costs in deciding how to implement air-quality standards, even though it does not consider costs in setting air-quality standards.

Nine states filed a brief supporting the EPA's rule, saying it did not impose undue costs but ``enables all states in the eastern half of the United States to obtain the benefits of clean air for their residents.''