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Supreme Court Reviews Air Rule that Would Prevent Thousands of Deaths Each Year

Today, the highest court of the land will hear argument in a case that is important to anyone with lungs.

Here’s the issue in brief: after a court of appeals invalidated the U.S. EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), environmental groups, the EPA itself and various states, asked the Supreme Court to get involved.

A vital air safeguard, the 2011 rule would require power plants in more than two dozen states to clean up nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution that drifts across state borders and contributes to harmful soot (particles) and smog (ozone) pollution in downwind states. This cleanup would every year prevent 13,000 to 34,000 premature deaths, 15,000 non-fatal heart attacks, 19,000 hospital and emergency room visits, 19,000 episodes of acute bronchitis, 420,000 upper and lower respiratory symptoms, 400,000 episodes of aggravated asthma, and 1.8 million days of missed work or school. The EPA also projects that the rule’s pollution reductions will help protect not just people, but also the natural resources on which we depend, including national and state parks, and ecosystems including the Adirondack lakes and Appalachian streams, coastal waters and estuaries, and forests. Overall, the rule would provide up to $280 billion in health and environmental benefits.

CSAPR was adopted under the “good neighbor” provision of the Clean Air Act, and that is what the rule requires—that upwind states generating this pollution not foul the air in other states.

Earthjustice attorney Howard Fox is one of several attorneys representing Environmental Defense Fund, which filed a brief in the case in September. Briefs supporting CSAPR were also filed by the EPA and by various states and cities (New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and the cities of Baltimore, Bridgeport, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia), and by two electric utilities (Calpine Corporation and Exelon Corporation).

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen said:

These clean air safeguards against power plant pollution are vital public health protections that will each and every year prevent thousands of premature deaths, and hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and other illnesses.

Millions of Americans who live downwind from this deadly pollution have the right to breathe air that doesn't sicken and kill them. After years of delay, the time is long overdue for these urgently needed safeguards to be allowed to take effect.

A decision is expected from the Supreme Court by June 2014.