Obama scores rare environmental victory at Supreme Court

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(CNN) — A key part of the Obama administration’s green policies received surprisingly strong Supreme Court support on Tuesday over efforts to curb air pollution.

A 6-2 majority of justices issued a decision upholding federal agency rules to control coal-fired power plant emissions from 28 states.

It was a rare environmental victory in a conservative majority court that has in recent years generally sided against the federal government’s nationwide clean air policies.

The issue was complex — whether an “upwind” state that is polluting a “downwind” state is free of any obligations under the so-called Good Neighbor provision, unless and until federal regulators have quantified the upwind state’s contribution to downwind state’s air pollution problems.

The case was an important test of federal regulatory power, and the rules issued two years ago by the Environmental Protection Agency were challenged by a coalition of 15 states, as well as several energy companies and labor unions.

Leaders in some mostly conservative states say lost jobs and higher energy costs are at stake from what they see as arbitrary and ambiguously enforced regulations.

But the administration and its environmental allies counter Americans’ health should come first, and that as many as 45,000 deaths could be prevented each year if the Cross-State Pollution Rule would be allowed to take effect.

The high court agreed to a large extent.

“The Good Neighbor Provision, in our view, entrusts interpretive authority to EPA,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. “We are satisfied that EPA’s construction of the statute reasonably responded to a perplexing problem the statute itself does not resolve.”

Shortly before the court’s December arguments, a coalition of eight of nine governors from the affected downwind states signed a petition urging the EPA to force nine southern and midwestern upwind states to reduce smog and soot emissions from power plants.

The one downwind governor who did not sign was New Jersey’s Chris Christie.

The consolidated cases decided Tuesday are EPA v. EME Homer City Generation (12-1182) and American Lung Assn. v. EME Homer City Generation (12-1183).

By Bill Mears