Judges Overturn Bush Bid to Ease Pollution RulesPublished by MAC on 2006-03-17
Judges Overturn Bush Bid to Ease Pollution Rules
by MICHAEL JANOFSKY, New York Times, WASHINGTON
17th March 2006
A federal appeals court on Friday overturned a clean-air regulation issued by the Bush administration that would have let many power plants, refineries and factories avoid installing costly new pollution controls to help offset any increased emissions caused by repairs and replacements of equipment.
Ruling in favor of a coalition of states and environmental advocacy groups, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the "plain language" of the law required a stricter approach. The court has primary jurisdiction in challenges to federal regulations.
The ruling by a three-judge panel was the court's second decision in less than a year in a pair of closely related cases involving the administration's interpretations of a complex section of the Clean Air Act.
Unlike its ruling last summer, when the court largely upheld the E.P.A.'s approach against challenges from industry, state governments and environmental groups, the new ruling was a defeat for the agency and for industry, and a victory for the states and their environmentalist allies.
In the earlier case, a panel including two of the three judges who ruled on Friday decided that the agency had acted reasonably in 2002, when it issued a rule changing how pollution would be measured,effectively loosening the strictures on companies making changes to their equipmentand operations.
But on Friday, the court said the agency went too far in 2003 when it issued a separate new rule that opponents said would exempt most equipment changes from environmental reviews - even changes that would result in higher emissions.
With a wry footnote to Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass," the court said that "only in a Humpty-Dumpty world" could the law be read otherwise.
"We decline such a world view," said their unanimous decision, written by Judge Judith W. Rogers, an appointee of President Bill Clinton. Judges David Tatel, another Clinton appointee, and Janice Rogers Brown, a recent Bush appointee, joined her.
The winners this time -more than a dozen states, including New York and California and a large group of environmental organizations - hailed the decision as one of their most important gains in years of litigation, regulation and legal challenges under the Clean Air Act.
The provision of the law at issue, the "new source review" section, governs the permits required at more than 1,300 coal-fueled power plants around the country and 17,000 factories, refineries and chemical plants that spew millions of tons of pollution into the air each year.
"This is an enormous victory over the concerted efforts by the Bush administration to dismantle the Clean Air Act," Eliot Spitzer, the New York attorney general, whose office led theopposition from the states, said in an interview.
Mr. Spitzer, who is running for governor, said the ruling "shows that the administration's effort to misinterpret and undermine the statute is illegal."