EPA Defeats Groups’ Push for Toughening Rules on Acid Rain

May 27, 2014 3:52 pm ET

(Updates with environmentalist comment in 8th paragraph.)

May 27 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in at least its sixth court victory this year in air- quality cases, defeated a challenge by environmental groups to its delay of new rules to combat acid rain.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington today accepted the agency’s argument that drafting effective rules to curb the airborne chemicals that cause acid rain involves “large complexities” that require the additional study the agency said was called for.

“In light of the deference due EPA’s scientific judgment, it is clear its judgment must be sustained here,” U.S. Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote for a three-judge panel.

The appeals court earlier this year upheld EPA regulatory decisions regarding pollution from cement kilns and coal mines, as well as power-plant mercury emissions, particulate-matter emissions and carbon-monoxide standards. The court rejected challenges by industry and environmentalists and supported the agency’s discretion on rulemaking.

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court in April upheld the EPA’s “good neighbor” rule that requires states to cut emissions that “contribute significantly” to pollution in other states.

More Time

In today’s case, the EPA decided in 2012 that it needed more time to figure out appropriate new standards for nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, chemicals that are produced primarily by fossil-fuel combustion in power plants, motor vehicles and industrial operations and contribute to acid rain.

The Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental groups sued, arguing that the EPA had enough information to set a new standard and that delay violated the Clean Air Act.

Charles McPhedran, an attorney with Earthjustice, which represented the center and other petitioners, disagreed with the ruling. He said in a phone interview that the plaintiffs “look forward to EPA implementing its field-pilot program” to collect data “for future rulemaking to address acid rain.”

The case is Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA, 12-01238, U.S. Court of Appeals, District of Columbia (Washington).

--With assistance from Mark Drajem in Washington.