The Supremes Want to Hear About Cross-State Air Pollution (Texas Still Doesn't)

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The Supreme Court is all finished with the rulings for this session, but the high court is already looking ahead to the next session, and they're about to take a look at air, as in air pollution.

In July 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, requiring power plants to cut their emissions so that emissions would stop drifting across state lines and polluting the air of neighboring states. The new rule was basically a refining of the Clean Air Interstate Rule, circa 2005, which required states to cut back on power plant emissions, since those emissions are belched into the air and then can drift across state lines and smog up another state's air. (Obviously this is something that has been happening in Houston for years now, or so we can tell ourselves and go on and blame Oklahoma for all those smoggy days. Unless there's a way we can twist this to blame Dallas. When in doubt, always blame Dallas.)

The new rule had stricter emissions standards, something the power companies were not wild about, fighting the measure tooth and nail, including in Texas. Go figure: When the EPA tried to enact the rule, there were many legal protestations from various power companies and entities, including Texas.

Last December, it seemed as if the power companies had won after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled 2-1 in favor of the companies on the issue, declaring the federal regulatory agency was overreaching. The 2005 rule stayed in place and many thought that was the end of it.

However, the Supremes have just made a move telling everybody that the issue may not be quite as dead as that famed Dickensian doornail -- which, BTW, Charles Dickens was writing about when the Industrial Revolution was just getting started in England and pollution on the industrial level was relatively new -- by agreeing to hear the case, according to Reuters.

The justices have hung up their robes for this session after making rulings on everything from a Texas-Oklahoma water fight, DOMA and the Voting Rights Act.

The Cross-State Air Pollution Rule likely won't be a big focal point in rulings next year -- aside from among the people who follow this stuff in between making jokes about Charles Dickens's iron-mongering and all -- but the Supremes agreeing to hear the EPA Cross-State Air Rule is interesting because on top of the American Lung Association and a slew of environmentalists, President Obama was one of the ones asking the justices to take up the case. So the whole thing is now taking on a presidential flavor.

This is all in keeping with Obama's recent climate change speech at Georgetown University where he called for cutting back on coal-fired power plants and the emissions that come from them. The move was enough to send the price of coal tumbling in the markets, and if the Supreme Court overturns the Court of Appeals ruling, it's likely that a lot of power companies who use coal will be looking at some major retrofitting of their facilities to meet the new standards. Also, the virtues of natural gas - which also got a shout-out from Obama during his big speech - may start looking downright appealing.

The states and power companies against it have characterized the rule as an attempt by the EPA to overreach and dip federal toes in state waters. This is a particularly touchy thing in Texas, where it seems like the Lone Star State has been opposing every move the EPA makes that affects the state.

The Supreme Court will reconvene in October, with its rulings slated to be issued in June 2014, when the next session wraps up.

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