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Supreme Court's Air Pollution Ruling Goes Against Texas

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday morning that federal limits on the effects of air pollution across state boundaries are legal, striking down a challenge from Texas and a number of other states and industry coalitions.

By Neena Satija, The Texas Tribune and Reveal
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*Correction appended

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

The state of Texas, which has fought the federal government over several environmental regulations, lost a major battle Tuesday, as U.S. Supreme Court justices ruled in a 6-2 vote to reinstate a regulation that aims to limit the effects of air pollution across state boundaries.

Texas was one of a number of states, joined by industry and labor groups, that had sued the Environmental Protection Agency over the Cross-State Pollution Rule in 2011.

Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling means that Texas and 26 other "upwind" states in the South, Midwest and Appalachia will have to reduce some of their emissions that contribute to air pollution in East Coast states like New York. Coal plants are among those likely be the most affected, particularly as they are already dealing with new limits on their carbon dioxide emissions.

"This is a big decision," said David Spence, a professor of business and law at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in federal environmental law. "It's one of many things that is putting pressure on coal-fired power."

He added that the EPA, whose attempts to regulate cross-state air pollution date back to the Clinton administration, has gained some clarity. Nearly 15 years of legal challenges to such rules are now over; the only way they could change now is if a presidential administration orders the EPA to go in a different direction.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokesman Terry Clawson said the agency is disappointed with the ruling. But, he added, “we’re encouraged that the court clearly acknowledged … the complexity of the interstate transport problem.”

In their legal challenge of the rule, industry and labor groups had argued that the EPA's consideration of cost-effectiveness in deciding how states should limit their emissions was unfair. Texas added that the agency had not given states enough time or guidance to follow the new regulations.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals had agreed and ordered the EPA to go back to the drawing board. But the Supreme Court reversed the court’s decision and dismissed both complaints, calling the agency's use of cost-effectiveness "permissible, workable, and equitable."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority, added that nothing in the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to give the extra guidance or time that Texas had insisted was necessary to follow the rules. “EPA is not obliged … to postpone its action even a single day,” she wrote.

Environmental groups hailed the ruling as a victory for clean air, noting that the EPA estimates the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule would save 30,000 lives a year. But Texas and other states that challenged it, including Louisiana and Alabama, said it would devastate their economies. Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Supreme Court’s swing vote on many issues, and Chief Justice John Roberts, one of the court’s most conservative justices, joined the court’s four more liberal justices in ruling in favor of the EPA.

Abbott has sued the EPA multiple times. A federal court dismissed a lawsuit last year that challenged the agency for taking over Texas’ greenhouse gas permitting program. The state lost another lawsuit protesting the EPA’s definition of greenhouse gases as a danger to public health and welfare, and the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal.

The fate of another challenge by Texas and industry groups to EPA regulations will soon be decided. The Supreme Court heard arguments in February against the agency’s greenhouse gas permitting rules and will issue a ruling in the coming months.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

*Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the United Mine Workers of America as an industry group.

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