ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - The Post-Standard of Syracuse on the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on air pollution.
The Adirondack Park got good news last week from the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 6-2 decision, the high court upheld rules curbing air pollution that blows into New York from upwind states. That pollution is a major cause of acid rain, which over the decades turned hundreds of Adirondack lakes into dead zones for fish and wildlife.
In 1977, Congress enacted a “good neighbor policy” to make states responsible for the pollution they foisted upon their neighbors. New York cleaned up its own power plants in the 1980s. Coal-burning power plants in the Midwest simply built taller smokestacks so the pollution wouldn’t fall on their own states. It fell on ours instead.
In 1990, Congress directed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to get a better handle on this cross-state pollution. It’s been a long process, as opponents of stricter pollution standards repeatedly went to court to block them. We’ll cut to recent developments.
Rules developed during the George W. Bush administration were struck down by the courts. The Obama administration came up with a complex formula to account for the vagaries of the wind. EPA interpreted the law to allow “several factors to be considered, including what it would cost and how much the state has done to cut pollution,” the Washington Post reported. This rule also was struck down by the courts.
Our lakes and forests, already scarred by acid rain, should not be further harmed. Curbing cross-state pollution also will improve human health.
Last week, the Supreme Court spoke. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan voted to uphold the EPA rule as a permissible interpretation of the law. Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented, arguing that EPA overstepped its bounds. Justice Samuel Alito recused himself.
EPA estimated the rule would cut sulfur dioxide emissions by 73 percent from 2005 levels within three years.
New York led a coalition of nine states, the District of Columbia and five cities in filing briefs supporting EPA. “The court’s decision recognizes that each state has the responsibility to prevent pollution from harming the air quality of its neighbors, and that the EPA must step in if necessary to ensure that obligation is met,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said.
Schneiderman is right. Our lakes and forests, already scarred by acid rain, should not be further harmed. But more than fish and trees will benefit from curbing cross-state pollution. Smog and soot can harm human health. In New York, over 4 million people experience smog pollution that endangers their health.
Congress may yet respond to cries of regulatory overreach and change the clean air rules again. In the meantime, New Yorkers may be able to breathe a little bit easier and the Adirondacks may have more time to recover.
The Times Union of Albany on the state’s Scaffold Law.