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Court reinstates EPA clean-air rule

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Michael Bryant/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT

(Read caption) A federal appeals court reinstated a Bush administration rule that seeks to cap harmful emissions in Eastern US states, such as the ones spewing out of this oil refinery on the Delaware River.

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A federal appeals court on Tuesday temporarily reinstated a Bush administration rule that sought to cut harmful pollution from power plants and other facilities in the Eastern US.

Issued in 2005 and set to take effect on Jan. 1, the Clean Air Interstate Rule permanently capped emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in 28 Eastern and Midwestern states. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that the rule would prevent about 17,000 deaths a year and save up to $100 billion in health benefits.

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But this past July, following a lawsuit against the EPA by North Carolina and some electric power producers, the US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit threw out the rule, citing what it called “more than several fatal flaws” in the regulation. The judges believed that the EPA was improperly interfering with pollution permit trading markets and unfairly privileging coal utilities over natural-gas ones.

That ruling managed to disappoint environmentalists, the White House, and many power companies that had invested billions in anticipation of a more robust trading market that would have arisen under the rule.

But after hearing the case again, the DC court reversed its decision, allowing the rule to stay in place until the next administration fixes it.

The court did not issue a timetable, but, as the Associated Press reports, it warned the EPA that its ruling does not constitute an "indefinite stay" of its July decision.

The Boston Globe quotes Rep. Ed Markey (D) of Massachusetts, who hailed the reversal:

“Knocking down the Clean Air Interstate Rule completely would have left our lungs in a lurch," said Congressman Ed Markey, chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, in a statement.
"Today’s decision is significant because it gives the new Obama Administration some breathing room – and gives the American people some clean air to breathe. Air pollution does not obey state boundaries and CAIR is essential to protect Americans living downwind of sources of dangerous emissions.”

Environmental groups were also pleased. "This could prove a holiday gift to breathers," wrote Clean Air Watch's Frank O'Donnell.

The Environmental Defense Fund also approved. A press release quotes Vickie Patton, a deputy general counsel for the advocacy group:

“Today's court decision is a welcome gift for the millions of Americans that face serious health threats from power plant pollution. Power plants across the East will reduce millions of tons of smog and soot pollution today while America's new leadership fixes the mistakes made by the Bush Administration.”