Supreme Court blocks EPA rule to limit air pollution from Midwest states

Coal-fired power plant
A coal-fired power plant in Glenrock, Wyo., is silhouetted against the morning sun. (J. David Ake / Associated Press)

The Supreme Court on Thursday blocked an interstate air quality rule issued last year by the Biden administration to limit ozone that comes from power plants and industrial sites in the Midwest and sends polluted air drifting toward the East Coast.

The vote was 5-4, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett joining the three liberals in dissent.

The so-called good neighbor rule is part of the Clean Air Act, and the Environmental Protection Agency says it ensures that sources of air pollution in "upwind states" must take steps to reduce it if it is "affecting air quality in downwind states."

In its latest update, the EPA targeted 23 states for more stringent regulation, including California in part.

But before the rule could take effect, it was caught up in legal battle between the Republican-led states and the Democratic administration.

Twelve states, led by Texas, won rulings from U.S. appeals courts reversing the EPA's determination that its air pollution standards were inadequate.

These decisions shielded the states from the new rule.

Undeterred, the EPA pressed ahead to enforce its new rule in the Midwest states that had yet to win exemptions.

The Biden administration argued that a court-ordered "delay would seriously harm the downwind states that suffer from their upwind neighbors’ emissions, placing the entire burden of achieving healthy air quality on those states and exposing their residents to public-health risks."

But Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia went directly to the Supreme Court, seeking an order to block the EPA's rule, at least for now.

They said the Clean Air Act gives states "the primary responsibility for assuring air quality" in this country, and they urged the justices to block the "EPA's power grab." They also argued that the EPA's more stringent controls would harm their industries and "destabilize their power grids" by reducing the production of electricity.

Writing for the majority, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said, "Because the states bear primary responsibility for developing compliance plans, EPA has no authority to question the wisdom of a state’s choices of emission limitations."

The unusual legal posture of the case prompted an unusual procedural move by the Supreme Court. Usually, the justices agree to review cases after a federal judge and a U.S. appeals court have ruled on the matter.

But in this instance, the justices agreed to hear arguments and write a decision in the case of Ohio vs. EPA before any lower court had ruled on the new regulation.

California was mostly a bystander in this clean-air fight because the new EPA rule did not affect power plants in the state. It would, however, apply to industrial sites beginning in 2026.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.