Sen. Carper: Congress Cannot Delay on Clean Air Despite Court Ruling on EPA’s Clean Air Rule

WASHINGTON – Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) said Congress must now take the lead on clean air issues in light of a federal appeals court ruling today on the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR), designed to reduce air pollution from power plants and help downwind states like Delaware meet federal clean air standards.

As chairman of the Senate Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, Sen. Carper has been closely following the status of CAIR – including holding a hearing and roundtable in recent months on possible legislative CAIR solutions. Today’s ruling of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reaffirmed its July 11th decision when the court determined that the EPA went beyond its legislative authority under the Clean Air Act when it established the Clean Air Interstate Rule. But in order to “temporarily preserve the environmental benefits of CAIR” and give states and industry some time to adapt to a new regulatory system, the court has decided to keep CAIR in place for an undetermined amount of time while EPA rewrites the rule. The same court in February struck down an EPA rule that attempted to regulate mercury power plant emissions through a cap-and-trade program.

Sen. Carper, who has authored legislation that would go farther than EPA’s proposal to reduce smog, soot and mercury, said today’s court decision highlights the need for Congress to weigh in and write a strong clean air standard.

“We are ending the year as we started nearly eight years ago, in January 2001, with no new meaningful federal regulations to clean up our dirtiest fossil-fuel power plants,” said Sen. Carper, who first proposed tightening clean air standards six years ago. “I am encouraged to see the court keep CAIR in place for a time, giving states and industry some small relief, while we in Congress work on a solution. It is time we put our differences aside and finally pass legislative updates to the Clean Air Act so our nation can breathe cleaner air. Congressional inaction is no longer an option.”

Today’s remand from the court reaffirms the decision that CAIR is fatally flawed. CAIR relied on a trading scheme to reduce emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides from power plants in 28 eastern and midwestern states, as well as the District of Columbia. This EPA regulation was intended to reduce ozone and fine particle pollution from power plants that can be transported across state boundaries and help downwind states, like Delaware, attain EPA air quality standards.  Although CAIR is kept in place for a time, the court reaffirmed its position that the EPA cannot extend the Title IV Acid Rain program to address sulfur dioxide, leaving few options for EPA to rewrite the rule with interstate trading. The EPA can still appeal to the Supreme Court, but Sen. Carper does not want to wait for the appeal process before starting work on legislation.

Nationwide, two out of five people live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particulate matter – both serious health hazards for people who suffer from asthma and other lung diseases.  From sulfur dioxide emissions alone, 24,000 Americans die each year.

Last year, Sen. Carper introduced his Clean Air Planning Act of 2007 (CAPA), which would significantly reduce unhealthy emissions of mercury, as well as the harmful pollutants (nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide) that produce smog and acid rain. In addition, this four-pollutant bill would set up a mandatory cap-and-trade program for utilities to reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide, which contributes greatly to global warming.

“CAPA provides an aggressive, yet achievable schedule for power plants to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, mercury and carbon dioxide,” Sen. Carper said. “While CAPA is great starting point, I want to say that all options are on the table. What matters most to me is not what legislative vehicle we use to clean up our air, but rather that we get something done that is comprehensive and meaningful,. It must be stronger than the Bush Administration’s CAIR and better than the seriously-flawed mercury rule. I look forward to working with Sen. Boxer and President-elect Obama on legislation that finally puts our nation on a path forward to clean air.”

CAPA currently has 13 bipartisan cosponsors, including: Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), John Sununu (R-N.H.), Joe Biden (D-Del.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Amy Klobuchar, (D-Minn.), and Hillary Clinton (D-NY).