Supreme Court Prevents Power Plants from Being like Your Gross Neighbor

For those of us who have lived in apartments, duplexes, flats, etc. like I have, we understand that what happens in our neighbors’ dwellings often affects our homes. When my downstairs neighbors burn popcorn, I have to smell it. When my upstairs neighbors listen to Nickelback, I have to deal with my ears bleeding. Power plants and their filthy pollution are no different, and now the Supreme Court is making sure their toxic emissions don’t pollute neighboring states.

Tuesday, April 29, the Supreme Court upheld the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Good Neighbor rule, targeting cross state pollution. The decision requires 28 eastern states to reduce power plant emissions that carry pollution, smog and other toxic particles across state borders. Now, about 1,000 plants will have to implement new pollution controls to limit nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide emissions.

The EPA rule requires each upwind state to allocate a budget for the total amount of pollution it can produce each year. States affected by the new law believe they should be able to create their own emission-cutting strategies, but due to lack of progress (AKA laziness) the EPA has taken it into its own hands. The Supreme Court said, “[The] EPA’s cost-effective allocation of emission reductions among upwind States, we hold, is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor Provision.”

War on Coal?

Naturally, the coal community is not happy, spouting claims that the Obama administration is waging a “war on coal” (can’t they come up with something more original?). The focus is on coal because it accounts for 98 percent of sulfur dioxide and 92 percent of nitrogen oxide emitted into the air by power plants. However, such chemical emissions have deadly results and cause major health issues for millions of people, oftentimes in places nowhere near the power plants. So, regulating such emissions is vital regardless of the producer.

According to the EPA, particle pollution from power plants causes 34,000 premature deaths each year. In addition, it also causes more than 400,000 asthma attacks and hundreds of thousands of pollution related respiratory illnesses each year. While it will be expensive for power plants to adopt new technologies and strategies to minimize emissions, the EPA says the investments will be a small price to pay compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars in health care savings from cleaner air.

Individual states can challenge the new law if for some reason they think they have the right to pollute their neighbors’ air. As I’ve experienced with my various living situations, there’s always that one neighbor that has no regard for others. At this point it looks like Texas is that neighbor as analysts and EPA officials have already mentioned it as the first state to petition the ruling. But in the meantime, we can enjoy spring’s arrival and breathe in the smell of fresh flowers without going into instant respiratory failure.

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