SCOTUS Backs Obama on Air Pollution

The Supreme Court, by a 6-2 vote, upheld an EPA regulation that requires 28 states to take steps to reduce the amount of air pollution they produce because of the negative effect it has on the health of people in states to the north and east of them, where that pollution travels.

States in the Midwest and South whose polluted air flows north and east must comply with a federally imposed solution, a 6-2 majority of justices ruled.

The decision, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was a boon for the Obama administration and its environmental regulators. They had required 28 upwind states to slash ozone and fine particle emissions from power plants because of their downwind effects. Most of those states have rebelled against the solution, and a federal appeals court sided with them in 2012.

The case focuses on air currents miles overhead but has down-to-earth consequences. The Environmental Protection Agency blames exposure to ozone and fine particles in the air for one in 20 deaths in the United States, 90,000 hospital admissions, 200,000 non-fatal heart attacks and 2.5 million cases of aggravated asthma.

Given the depth of the problem, the court majority concluded that the EPA chose a sensible solution — basing soot and smog reductions on the least costly means available. That puts an added burden on states that have done less in the past to control their power plant pollution.

“We are satisfied that EPA’s construction of the (Clean Air Act) reasonably responded to a perplexing problem the statute itself does not resolve,” Ginsburg said from the bench.

Justices Scalia and Thomas were in dissent, but conservative Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Kennedy sided with the majority. Justice Alito recused himself for reasons that were never explained.

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  • Chiroptera


    Are northern states exempt? Is that because fuck Canada?

  • Michael Heath

    Again the motivation on why CJ Roberts sided with the liberals and moderates would be a great story.

    J. Scalia’s dissent featured an ideological objection to the federal government protecting down-wind states from up-wind polluters; as opposed to a cogent dissent federal action was unconstitutional. Did Scalia’s absurd argument push Roberts away like Kennedy’s did in his ACA dissent? I’m not so sure; Scalia’s opinion in Heller was equally idiotic, while Stevens dissent in Heller was brilliant, and yet Roberts joined Scalia’s idiocy.

    I bring this up given liberal popularity with the meme that Roberts is a committed corporatist. And here we have this anecdotal exception. I side with the liberal meme, I think Roberts is demonstrably a corporatist as committed to those interests as Scalia is to Christianism and partisan Republican politics. So Roberts’ apparent abandonment of corporatism increases my interest on why Roberts didn’t toe the line here.

    Perhaps it was Scalia’s dissent combined with Kennedy going with the majority. Roberts doesn’t do any good joining Scalia’s opinion while doing so would have reinforced the assertion he’s a corporatist. A label I’m confident he rejects.

    Certainly we can concede that Roberts and Scalia in no way, “call them as they see them” relative to the Constitution. The belief they’re impartial referees is as absurd as Roberts claiming racism is dead and there’s no corruption in D.C. And Roberts is supposed to be the smart conservative.

  • eric

    @2 – I would guess it’s just because of the particular States involved in the suit, not out of any directional bigotry. 🙂 Presumably the precedent will apply if Delaware starts sending poison clouds over Maryland and Pennsylvania.

  • Seth

    No, it’s because Northern states already meet or exceed the regulations, for the most part…but they still suffer the ill-effects from the poorly-regulated Confederates.

  • beergoggles

    I was just surprised they didn’t reclassify pollution as speech and protect it under the first amendment.

  • brucegee1962

    …. AND beergoggles wins the thread!

    I think there may be some hope for Roberts. The court has been known to change people over time, and maybe he’ll be one of those whose views evolve and become more progressive.

  • eric

    @7: I don’t see any real evolution. The problem is you’re comparing him to Scalia, who is so extreme its ridiculous. Roberts is solidly right, and only in contrast to Scalia does he come off sometimes looking liberal. Saying the EPA has federal power to regulate cross-state pollution may be left of Scalia, but it’s not really “left.” Its just kind of middle-of-the-road.

  • 6-2? Typical Liberals, trying to “protect” “people” from “dying” “unnecessarily”! Think of all the jobs this Job Killing Regulation™ is killing: doctors, morgue attendents, mortuary owners, obituary writers, grave diggers…

  • D. C. Sessions

    I’ll side with the “Roberts saw no upside to being in the minority on a 5-3 decision” school.

  • colnago80

    If one drives the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia, one will see a sign proclaiming that the haze in summer over the Shenandoah Valley to the west is due to coal burning power plants in the Midwest, particularly Ohio.

  • Roberts is solidy right wing. The difference between him and Scalia is that he at least tries to base his rulings on the law instead of letting ideology overrule it time and time again. At lest some of the time.

  • magistramarla

    Meanwhile, Texas is ignoring all of them “librul” regulations. I read in the paper this morning that San Antonio will probably lose it’s clean air rating within the next three years. The fracking that is going on in this state is fouling the water and the air. Perry and his cronies are encouraging every business that wants to enjoy low taxes, no regulations and plenty of poorly educated low-wage employees to “come on down”.

    I just bought my last bottle of Sriracha.,0,4285954.story

    The local paper says that it looks as though the company has decided to move to San Antonio. That’s the last thing this city needs – one more company that doesn’t care how much they irritate the lungs and eyes of their neighbors.

    I can’t wait to get out of this state for good!