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Clean Air Act provides basis for president’s precarious environmental legacy

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal of a regulation passed by the Obama administration aimed at reducing toxic emissions from coal-fueled power plants. While the regulation has been hailed as a major achievement for clean air, it has also been attacked by Republicans and industry leaders as more costly to the coal industry than is warranted by the benefits.

The legal issue on appeal concerns the costs of implementing the regulation, and whether or not the Clean Air Act requires that those costs be taken into consideration when passing new regulations. Under the law, regulations are required to be “appropriate and necessary,” but the exact interpretation of this phrase is in dispute. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Clean Air Act does not require the costs of implementing a regulation to be taken into account in the early part of the regulatory process. Back in April, a federal appeals court ruled that this was a reasonable way of interpreting the law.  The EPA does take compliance costs into account, but not when deciding whether or not to regulate in the first place.

The current appeal is likely not going to be the last regulatory battle waged by industry against the EPA, though this case is a particularly important one because of the way the administration has depended on the Clean Air Act to further its environmental goals.

Environmental compliance is an important task for businesses and it is important to receive guidance and advocacy from experienced environmental law attorneys to ensure efficient means of ensuring ensure compliance with both state and federal laws.

Source: The New York Times, “Obama Builds Environmental Legacy With 1970 Law,” Coral Davenport, Nov. 26, 2014. 

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