The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

Raviya Ismail, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 237

Court Rejects Bush Administration Air Pollution Waivers

Case aimed at reducing smog in America’s most polluted communities


A federal appeals court today rejected
Bush administration rules that allowed major power plants and factories
to emit uncontrolled pollution into the air in cities that already have
severely polluted air. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
found the Environmental Protection Agency rules illegally let plants
buy rights to pollute -- sometimes from plants hundreds of miles
away -- instead of installing modern emission controls.

The court also invalidated parts of the
rule that weakened pollution limits for major new or expanded factories
and power plants in cities with unhealthful air.

"Rejecting these waivers is a breath of
fresh air to millions of Americans living in cities that violate clean
air standards," said David Baron, Earthjustice attorney. "The EPA rule
let power plants pump uncontrolled air pollution into regions that
already had dangerous smog levels. We said that violated the law, and
the court agreed."

Earthjustice filed the suit, representing
the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The states of New Jersey,
New York and Connecticut also joined in part of the challenge.

Power plants are a leading source of the
pollutants that make up ozone, commonly known as smog. Smog is linked
to premature deaths, thousands of emergency room visits, and tens of
thousands of asthma attacks each year. Ozone is especially dangerous to
small children and senior citizens, who are often warned to stay
indoors on polluted days. Power plants also are major sources of soot
and other particles linked to tens of thousands of premature deaths
every year.

"This decision will mean cleaner air and
stronger air quality protections across the country," said John Walke,
Clean Air Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "With
summer smog blanketing our communities, this decision is a welcome
relief and promise of stronger health safeguards. We ask EPA
Administrator Lisa Jackson to take this opportunity to protect all
Americans swiftly against dangerous smog pollution."

The case grew out of an air pollution
trading program aimed at reducing pollution that travels between
states. The EPA rule overturned today created loopholes by allowing
power plants in already polluted communities to avoid installing
controls by buying pollution credits from another plant that could be
hundreds of miles away. Earthjustice argued that the waiver violated
the Clean Air Act. Twenty-two states are members of this interstate
program, and most of them contain areas that are already very polluted,
officially known as "non-attainment areas." These include cities like
Chicago, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, New York and Philadelphia. People in
these areas already are plagued with unhealthy air.

Environmental advocates and affected
states are not the only ones who took issue with the power plant
exemption. The National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association filed a
brief also objecting to this waiver.

The ruling also rejected weakening Clean
Air Act limits on new and expanded factories in polluted communities.
The law requires new plants to more than offset their increased
emissions, for example by arranging for greater pollution reductions
from other facilities in the area. Yet the challenged Bush rules let
new plants claim offset credit for historical pollution reductions from
plants that closed down decades ago. The rules allowed such credits
even in cities that lacked programs to assure that they would still
meet health standards on time if the old credits were used. "This sort
of arrangement might work in the movie 'Back To The Future.' But in the
real world, it makes absolutely no sense," Baron added.

The court held that the credits could not
be allowed in cities that lacked approved plans assuring that they
would meet clean air standards on time.

Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.