After a rash of disappointing verdicts from the Supreme Court recently, the justices finally handed down a powerful decision that could have a significant impact on pollution levels in the United States. By a 6-2 vote, the justices told the state of Texas that it would have to comply with efforts to limit pollution since it impacted the air above other states.
Though states are generally permitted to make their own environmental regulations, that ideology is put into question when the consequences seep over into other states. Such is the case with pollution. When southern states pollute, that pollution travels downwind toward the northern states, thereby harming them. Ultimately, the Supreme Court agrees with the EPA that southern states are breaking “Good Neighbor” provisions by knowingly releasing pollution that taints the air of other states.
While these particular EPA regulations have been entertained for the past 15 years and officially put on the books in 2011, enforcement has been minimal due to an ongoing series of legal challenges. However, now that the Supreme Court has weighed in, it seems like the rules can finally have the influence they were designed to have.
The decision will affect heavy-polluters like coal plants the hardest. Critics of the EPA’s rules say that limiting businesses’ emissions will weaken affected states’ economies and cost jobs. On the other hand, the Obama administration offers up data showing that lowering pollution will save up to 45,000 lives annually.
The Supreme Court was also unsympathetic to Texas’s plea to delay enforcement of these rules. “EPA is not obliged… to postpone its action even a single day,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her majority opinion. To no one’s surprise, Justice Antonin Scalia slammed the decision, calling it typical “bureaucracy” and saying it would enable “rogue administration of the law.”
What makes this decision even more monumental is that the Supreme Court does not have a favorable record when it comes to upholding environmental regulations. The conservative majority has generally done little to protect the environment, although in this particular case, Justices John Roberts and Anthony Kennedy broke usual lines. Justice Samuel Alito abstained from the case.
We’ll be able to determine whether the most recent decision marks a permanent shift when the Supreme Court announces its ruling on a similar case. The Court must determine whether the EPA is permitted to strengthen pollution standards on things like power plants in order to combat global warming.
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