Federal Court Rules in Favor of Clean Air

Rejects EPA rules that would allow more soot pollution

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit today rejected U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules that allowed large soot-generating power plants to be built even though they violate clean air standards. The EPA estimates that soot pollution is responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths each year and also is a major cause of haze and ecosystem damage in parks and wilderness areas.

Particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise— these are deaths that would not have occurred if the air were cleaner.
(Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

Earthjustice represented the Sierra Club in this challenge to EPA rules that allowed plants to be constructed even if they would cause or worsen dangerous levels of soot pollution in the air people breathe. In fact, the 2010 rules allowed plant after plant to take advantage of an EPA-created loophole and be built without even checking whether they would cause or contribute to unhealthy levels of soot pollution.

The court also struck down the EPA’s waiver of a legal requirement for finding out how much soot pollution is already in the air before a new plant can be built. The Clean Air Act requires plants to use air quality monitors to determine how dirty the air is before they get a construction permit. These monitors take air samples to find out how much soot pollution is in the air. If the samples show the air is already so dirty that additional pollution from a new plant will cause or worsen a violation of standards, the plant cannot be built unless the owner secures offsetting pollution cuts from other plants in the area. The Court today held that EPA had no authority to waive the requirement for measuring air quality before a plant can be built.

"According to the EPA’s own estimates, soot pollution leads to tens of thousands of deaths and hospitalizations every year. It’s especially dangerous to kids, seniors, and people with heart and lung problems," said David Baron, the Earthjustice attorney who argued the case. "We’re pleased the court has scrapped EPA’s attempt to weaken vital protections against this deadly pollutant."

"Thousands of Americans are killed every year by dangerous soot pollution from sources like coal-fired power plants," said Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. "Today’s court decision will help ensure that coal plants do not have free rein to dump toxic chemicals and dangerous metals into our air, ensuring our children have safe, breathable air for generations to come."

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