Federal appeals court upholds EPA’s ‘Good Neighbor Rule’

— Environmental and health groups celebrated an important step toward clean air after a federal appeals court today [Sept. 25, 2023] denied the requests of states and industry groups to block the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Good Neighbor Rule.” The rule, designed to address cross-state air pollution and the adverse health effects of ozone pollution, also called smog, will improve public health and air quality.

The Good Neighbor Rule, a vital measure aimed at reducing cross-state air pollution, requires coal-burning power plants and other high-polluting industrial sources to decrease emissions that contribute to smog. Polluters in upwind states like Indiana and Ohio that had previously avoided implementing pollution controls are slated to reduce their contributions to hazardous smog levels in downwind states like Connecticut and Wisconsin.

“The court’s refusal to block this protective air rule serves as a critical step towards holding upwind polluters accountable for their contribution to cross-state smog,” said the coalition of health and environmental groups defending the rule. “We remain committed to fighting for cleaner air and a healthier future, ensuring that polluters are held responsible for jeopardizing air quality.”

The federal appeals court’s decision to reject the stay request is a triumph for communities striving to combat the health risks posed by air pollution. EPA estimates that the Good Neighbor Rule, when fully implemented, will prevent more than a million asthma attacks annually and at least a thousand premature deaths. This rule will also improve the health of forests and waterbodies harmed by ozone and its precursor pollutants.

“This court decision marks a crucial step in our ongoing battle to hold upwind polluters accountable for exacerbating cross-state smog pollution,” said Earthjustice Attorney Kathleen Riley. “With more than 127 million people residing in regions plagued by harmful ozone levels, the Good Neighbor Rule protects public health. Earthjustice will keep fighting to ensure that this and national air quality rules truly protect public health.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals decision for the D.C. Circuit is notable after other courts blocked a related rule from going forward in certain states. With support from the coalition of environmental and health organizations, EPA has consistently argued that all challenges to these national protections should be heard in the D.C. Circuit, the court with experience reviewing prior Good Neighbor rules.

Smog, a harmful form of air pollution generated by vehicles, factories, and power plants, leads to asthma attacks, heart and lung diseases, and premature deaths nationwide.

The Good Neighbor Rule is just one necessary step to protect people from the adverse health impacts of air pollution. Recent studies show that the national standards for particulate matter — soot — and smog are far too weak to protect people from premature death, lung cancer, reproductive harm, and cardiovascular disease. This year, the EPA proposed a new standard for soot, but it’s not nearly as strong as scientists and doctors say it needs to be. Stronger soot and smog regulations would save tens of thousands of lives.

A coalition of environmental and health groups has defended the Good Neighbor Rule in court. The coalition includes the Environmental Defense Fund; Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Clean Air Council, and Clean Wisconsin represented by the Clean Air Task Force; and Air Alliance Houston, Appalachian Mountain Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Downwinders at Risk, Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, represented by Earthjustice.

Source: “Court Rejects Polluters’ Request to Block EPA’s Good Neighbor Rule,” Sept. 25, 2023 Earthjustice press release.

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