Supreme Court Rejects API’s Challenge To EPA Air Pollution Rules, Everyone Benefits

The Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the Environmental Protect Agency’s air pollution rules this morning.

The case, American Petroleum Institute vs. EPA, saw the oil lobby disputing a rule adopted in 2010 that “set a tighter Clean Air Act standard for short-term spikes in nitrogen dioxide pollution near roads.” This new standard is 100 parts per billion for one hour, compared to the previous annual standard of 53 parts per billion dating back to 1971.

Nitrogen dioxide is a pungent, reddish-brown gas with a strong odor, and is emitted from auto exhaust and fossil fuel power generation. The DC Circuit upheld the rule in July of last year, finding that it addressed a real public health threat. The agency had pointed to scientific data showing the effect of nitrogen dioxide on the public, particularly asthma sufferers.

The Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the case means the DC Circuit’s 2012 decision stands — and its decision was fairly clear:

The unanimous three-judge panel ruled that EPA’s move was not arbitrary and capricious and did not violate the Clean Air Act. On a separate question over EPA’s plan for implementing the standards, the court punted, saying the statement was not final agency action and therefore not subject to review.

On the claim that EPA’s own regulations required it to rely on peer-reviewed studies, Judge Douglas Ginsburg wrote that the challengers were simply incorrect.

Perhaps the API should have had its brief peer-reviewed,” he quipped.

Nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere produces ozone when acted on by sunlight. The IPCC considers ozone to be the third most important greenhouse gas behind carbon dioxide and methane. A recent study by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory found that where nitrogen dioxide is cleaned up is crucial:

“When it comes to reducing ozone levels, emission reductions in one part of the world may drive greenhouse warming more than a similar level of emission reductions elsewhere,” said Kevin Bowman, lead author of the study, published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. “Where you clean up ozone precursor emissions makes a big difference. It’s all about — to use a real estate analogy — location, location, location.”

Courtesy of the Supreme Court, EPA monitoring of nitrogen dioxide in this new standard can only help build that understanding of where greenhouse emissions originate.

7 Responses to Supreme Court Rejects API’s Challenge To EPA Air Pollution Rules, Everyone Benefits

  1. Bill Walker says:

    The second paragraph sure reads to me like the 2010 standard allows MORE emissions than the old one (100 ppm/hour vs 53 ppm/year). Am I misunderstanding?

  2. Mark Shapiro says:

    At least our Supreme Court allows straightforward science to stand once in a while . . .

  3. Martin W says:

    The hourly value is much more stringent, so one could have rushhour situations or particular weather situations were the hourly value 100 ppm is exceeded several times a week (and people choking, ozone building etc.), but the yearly 53 ppm/year average is not exceeded.

  4. Joan Savage says:

    NOx compounds are largely metabolized and excreted, but even so, I share your implied concern for cumulative or chronic exposure.

    The old 53 ppb/year was both a primary standard for health and a secondary standard for public welfare.

    As it was averaged over a year, that meant that from a public health perspective, dangerously high NOX could occur intermittently, far higher than 100 ppb/hr.

    The new standard of 100 ppb/hr is a primary standard for public health, particularly for the elderly, individuals with asthma, and children.

  5. fj says:

    Like I’ve said many times: We have them just where we want them.

  6. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Did they wake up ‘Justice’ Thomas to ask his opinion?

  7. Joan Savage says:

    52 ppb/yr is both the old and new secondary standard for nitrogen dioxide, particularly in its environmental roles in ozone formation and as a greenhouse gas.

    Both primary and secondary standards are by location and do not directly address cumulative emission of GHG across the country.

    The incidental effect of the primary health standard (100 ppb/hr) on the environmental standard is that it could affect bottleneck conditions on expressways and stalled traffic.

    As it is, the 100ppb/hr health standard (same as 0.1 ppm) is cutting it close.

    “Nitrogen dioxide may increase bronchoconstriction in asthmatics at concentrations as low as 0.1 ppm (Roger et al. 1990). – OSHA fact page