US Supreme Court upholds regulations to tackle toxic air

1 May 2014

NEW YORK: The US Supreme Court has upheld the right of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate the smog from coal power plants, in a decisive action which will improve national air pollution.

The 6-2 ruling, an important environmental victory for the Obama administration, will usher in a series of regulations aimed at tackling air pollution which crosses state lines. The regulations, which derive from the Clean Air Act, will prevent as many as 34,000 premature deaths a year, the US Government has stated.

The EPA’s proposal aims to curtail air pollution emanating from 28 Midwestern and Appalachian states which leaves East Coast states particularly vulnerable. The rule will effectively enact the ‘Good Neighbor’ provision of the Clean Air Act, an aspect of the Act which requires states who contribute significantly to pollution in other jurisdictions to address their emissions. The rule also obliges states which can reduce their emissions in a cost effective manner to make the most expansive cuts.

East Coast states are disproportionately affected by air pollution given that current wind flows blow from west to east, leaving states such as Connecticut particularly exposed to neighboring states’ power plant emissions.

By using a modified cap-and-trade system to limit emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide, the new regulations force states to address the high levels of pollutants which their power plants emit. The cap will place an upper limit on the level of emissions while a limited number of pollution permits will facilitate trading.

Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the EPA, took to twitter to voice her approval of the judges’ decision, stating: “This is a big win for the nation’s public health and a proud day for the agency.”

This ruling comes just a month after the UN WHO noted that 1 in 8 people died prematurely due to air pollution in 2012. The international health body reported that air pollution is now the world’s greatest environmental health risk and caused some 7 million deaths. 

Maria Neira, Director of WHO’s Department for Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, cautioned: “The risks from air pollution are now far greater than previously thought or understood, particularly for heart disease and strokes. Few risks have a greater impact on global health today than air pollution; the evidence signals the need for concerted action to clean up the air we all breathe.” 

Related news:

China promises to clean up its cities, which will be home to 60% of its population by 2020

Two billion life years could be saved if India tackles toxic air, MIT economist argues

By Alana Ryan

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