Supreme Court upholds EPA’s ozone plan rulings, despite strong dissent

Enlarge / Ozone-producing chemicals come from a variety of sources and do not respect state borders.

On Tuesday, a slim majority of the U.S. Supreme Court issued an emergency ruling suspending rules developed by the Environmental Protection Agency intended to limit the spread of ozone-forming pollutants across state lines. Because it was handled on an emergency basis, the decision was made without any evidence gathered during the lower court proceedings. As a result, the justices can’t even agree on the nature of the regulations the EPA has proposed, prompting a resounding dissent from Judge Amy Coney Barrett, who was joined by the court’s three liberal justices.

Bad neighbors

The rule in question emerged from the EPA’s usual process of reviewing existing limits in light of changes in public health information and pollution control technology. In this case, the focus was on ozone-producing chemicals; in 2015, the EPA decided to lower the ozone limit from 75 to 70 parts per billion.

Once these standards are set, states must submit plans that meet two goals. One is to limit pollution within the state itself; the second involves pollution controls that will limit exposure in states downwind of pollution sources. EPA must evaluate these plans; if they are found to be insufficient, EPA can require states to follow a federal plan it designs.

In the case of the revised ozone standards, as noted in the dissent, two states declined to submit a plan to limit pollution in other states under this “good neighbor provision.” Twenty-one other states submitted plans that involved taking no action to control pollution crossing state lines. In response, the EPA formulated a single federal plan that would apply to all of those states.

Several states sued individually, and courts have suspended the EPA’s federal plan in those cases. As a result, several states asked the Supreme Court to issue an emergency ruling suspending the federal plan for the 23 states that were subject to it. While that led to arguments in court, it was not the product of prior litigation. As a result, there is no record of testimony or documentary evidence generated in lower courts, nor legal decisions that establish the logic and precedent that apply to this case. These often play a central role in informing Supreme Court decisions.

Leave a Comment