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Court Agrees that EPA New Source Review Rule Violates Clean Air Act

In March 2006, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit squashed the Environmental Protection Agency's weak approach at limiting air pollution from old power plants and other large industrial facilities. EPA's rule created a loophole that contradicted the purposes of the Clean Air Act and would have allowed thousands of pollution sources to continue emitting dangerous and toxic chemicals.

The Clean Air Act's new source review program was designed to curb air pollution from existing refineries and power generating plants. EPA has done little to follow these requirements, and as a result, many of these facilities continued to emit unhealthy levels of air pollution well beyond what the law had intended. Although the agency launched some enforcement suits against utility and refinery violators under the Clinton administration, the Bush administration sought to derail these enforcement suits by changing the rules to allow companies to virtually rebuild their facilities and boost pollution levels by avoiding new source review requirements.

The court wrote, "EPA's interpretation would produce a 'strange,' if not an 'indeterminate,' result: a law intended to limit increases in air pollution would allow sources operating below applicable emission limits to increase significantly the pollution they emit without government review."

Earthjustice represented a broad coalition of public health and environmental groups in this challenge. This decision ensures cleaner, healthier air for all Americans and is a strong victory for public health.