Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Federal regulations for smog-causing pollutants still uncertain

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 11:36 AM

For decades, New York has had more stringent emissions regulations than other states. It’s been state government’s way of trying to improve air quality.

But air moves, which complicates such efforts. Emissions from other states will drift in to New York, making their pollution this state’s problem. Former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued Midwestern power producers because pollution from their coal-fired plants was drifting into New York and degrading the state’s air quality. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has pursued similar legal action.

The Environmental Protection Agency is trying to regulate some of the interstate pollution, particularly sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide. But courts keep ruling against the regulations; most recently a federal appeals court struck down the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. As an article in the New York Times notes, the EPA’s rule creates a trading system that would let the states buy and sell pollution credits as a way to drive down the smog-causing emissions. In its ruling, the court said that EPA exceeded its authority.

In a statement responding to the decision, the American Lung Association urged the EPA to appeal the decision. The decision “creates additional unnecessary and conflicting hurdles that delay life-saving protections from millions of tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide pollution,” the past chair of the association’s national board of directors, Dr. Albert Rizzo, said in the statement.

In a saner political climate, Congress might intervene with a legislative fix. But Congress is polarized over myriad issues, including emissions regulations, so that won’t happen for now. If the EPA drafts a new regulatory scheme, it will almost certainly face court challenges. That means more cost and more regulatory uncertainty. Previous EPA regulations, which a court ruled must be replaced, will remain in place for now.

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