[JURIST] The US DC Circuit Court of Appeals held [PDF decision] Friday that the Environmental Protection Agency [official website] cannot exempt coal-fired power plants, oil refineries and other industrial facilities from a requirement to install new pollution controls to keep up with emissions changes. A rule creating an exemption under the so-called New Source Review [official website] permitting program was adopted by the Bush administration in 2003 at the instance of energy companies seeking to lessen litigation costs and settlements was challenged by a coalition of 15 states and several environmental groups that argued they were contrary to the provisions of the Clean Air Act [EPA backgrounder]. Operation of the rule was stayed by court order in December 2003 pending the resolution of appeals. In its decision Friday the appeals court said that "EPAs interpretation [of the law] 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."
The ruling affects some 800 power plants nationwide and more than 17,000 other facilities, including significant numbers in New York and California, the two most populous US states. In a statement on Friday's ruling, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer called it a "major victory for clean air and public health" that would "encourage industry to build new and cleaner facilities, instead of prolonging the life of old dirty plants." Spitzer noted that "more than 20,000 Americans die prematurely each year from power plant pollution". The New York Times has more.