The Supreme Court decision handing the Environmental Protection Agency an important clean air victory last week was refreshing in every sense of the word.
The court’s 6-2 ruling upheld the EPA’s authority to limit power-plant emissions that blow across state lines. It’s a crucial step forward for President Barack Obama’s effort to improve the air quality of states downwind from polluting coal-fired plants.
Better still, the ruling sets the stage for the EPA’s new climate change regulations, which are expected to be released in June.
Critics argue that the rules will be just one more attempt to reduce the nation’s reliance on its 600 coal-fired power plants. They’re right. The sooner the better.
Power plants estimate the costs of implementing the EPA rule at about $800 million a year. But emissions from burning coal force states to spend tens of billions of dollars every year in health and environmental costs.
The court’s ruling, in effect, says power plants in 28 states in the East, Midwest and South have a responsibility to reduce the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution that goes into the air and drifts to other states.
Downwind cities and states have argued for years that pollution from coal-fired plants outside their jurisdictions has prevented them from meeting air pollution standards. The court validated this claim, laying to rest the contention that the EPA had placed an unfair economic burden on polluters.
Coal-fired plants are the single largest source of the nation’s carbon emissions, responsible for about 40 percent of the total.
The president ordered the EPA last year to issue new regulations to fight global warming this June. He has confidence that this nation’s innovators can find ways to make cleaner, renewable sources of energy more practical and affordable, and so do we. The Supreme Court ruling provides the legal backing needed to move forward.
The EPA is expected to direct states to craft their own plans for meeting clean air standards. That could include reducing energy demand by requiring greener buildings and implementing more cap and trade programs like California’s. And thanks to the court, the EPA and downwind states will have leverage to force power plants to take responsibility for their emissions.
President Obama recognizes the obligation to fight global warming for the sake of future generations — and perhaps even our own: The latest peril disclosed this week is growing acidity in the world’s oceans, harming sea creatures in a food chain.
The fear has been that a divided Congress and a right-leaning Supreme Court would prevent the president and the EPA from acting to curb pollution. The court laid that notion to rest Tuesday. Now it’s up to the EPA to set effective regulations that spur innovation to meet our energy needs without destroying our world.