coal power plant

High-polluting states will have to green their practices.
Image: Guy Gorek / Flickr

Last week, Obama’s administration received surprisingly strong Supreme Court support in its clean-air efforts to curb air pollution crossing state lines. In a very conservative majority court that usually sides against the federal government’s nationwide clean air policies, the 6-2 vote was a rare environmental victory. The decision unblocks a 2011 rule requiring 28 eastern states to reduce power-plant emissions, as air pollution moves beyond just smokestacks and tailpipes. Several states see this as a victory—such as Connecticut, where 93% of air pollution comes from out-of-state sources.

The case involved an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) clean-air rule that targets air pollution drifting across state borders. The EPA has struggled for years to carry out a directive under the federal Clean Air Act to protect downwind states from pollution generated in other states, including coal-fired power plants.

“Most upwind States propel pollutants to more than one downwind State, many downwind States receive pollution from multiple upwind States, and some States qualify as both upwind and downwind,” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “The overlapping and interwoven linkages between upwind and downwind States with which EPA had to contend number in the thousands.”

Before the court’s December arguments on the issue, a coalition of eight of nine governors from the affected downwind states signed a petition urging the EPA to force nine different southern or Midwestern upwind states to reduce smog and soot emissions from power plants.

“This is great news for millions of people who suffer from serious health problems caused by the soot and smog-causing pollution from power plants in other states,” said John Walke, the clean air program director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.