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The US Environmental Protection Agency has won an important court victory that may help clean the air in Ontario. About half of the air pollution in southern Ontario blows in from the US, mostly from coal-fired power generation stations. The EPA has been trying, for many years, to force those stations to reduce their pollution, which includes heavy loads of smog-forming particles and mercury. Now it has a Clean Air court win.

Burning coal produces smog and harms our health

The Canadian Medical Association National Illness Cost of Air Pollution study put a huge dollar figure on the health and economic costs of air pollution in Canada.

The Ontario Medical Association estimates that air pollution costs Ontario more than $10 billion per year in health care costs, lost work time and other quantifiable expenses, as well as killing an estimated 2,000 Ontarians each year.

In ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY ET AL. v. EME HOMER CITY GENERATION, L. P., ET AL, the US Supreme Court upheld a 2011 rule issued by the EPA, requiring reductions in air pollution that drifts across state lines.

Clean Air court win: Cross-State Air Pollution Rule 

The EPA has struggled to carry out a directive under the federal Clean Air Act to protect downwind states from pollution generated in other states by coal-fired power plants. On July 6, 2011, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a rule that requires individual states to reduce air pollution and attain clean air standards. This rule, known as the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR), requires states to significantly improve air quality by reducing power plant emissions that contribute to ozone and/or fine particle pollution in other states.

The rule was immediately challenged by upwind states and industry, which had succeeded in lower courts. Now the Supreme Court has ruled 6 to 2 that the EPA can enforce its rule. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the majority that the agency must have leeway to confront the “complex challenge” of interstate pollution. She also quotes from the Gospel according to John:

“The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.”

This Clean Air court win gives the Obama administration a victory on one of its major environmental efforts. Earthjustice calls it ” a major victory for Earthjustice attorney Howard Fox and other attorneys acting on behalf of the Environmental Defense Fund, who have been defending the rule alongside other environmental groups, the EPA, nine states, and several cities. The unsuccessful challengers included electric power companies and allied states.”

The Clean Air court win should mean major emission reductions will be required from about 1000 old, dirty coal-fired plants, which should go a long way to improving air quality in southern Ontario.


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