The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned one of the Obama administration’s hallmark air-quality rules Tuesday, ruling that the Environmental Protection Agency had overstepped its authority in sharply curbing pollution from power plants.
The 2 to 1 ruling by the appeals court represents a major victory for utilities and business groups, which fought the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule on the grounds that it was costly, burdensome and arbitrary. Environmentalists, who had hailed the rule as a major improvement over a George W. Bush-era regulation, bemoaned the decision as a blow to public health.
For years, federal regulators have struggled with how best to cut harmful sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions from power plants in the eastern half of the country. Those emissions blow downwind and contribute to forming smog and acid rain in the East. The EPA issued regulations — which were to take effect Jan. 1, 2011, but were delayed by the court — which would have required utilities in 28 states and the District of Columbia to install new pollution controls. It also established a limited cap-and-trade system that would have allowed utilities to buy and sell pollution credits in order to comply with the new standards.