The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court a federal appeals court decison that overturned the agency's controversial smog and soot standards.
Oil industry groups, which had joined in the court appeal, praised the District of Columbia Court of Appeal's decision.
The American Trucking Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce filed the suit.
In a 2-1 opinion, the justices said EPA overstepped its constitutional authority in promulgating the rule.
The justices said that, when EPA drafted the rule 2 years ago, it failed to show that the tougher rules were justified by health protection considerations and had acted on legal assumptions that Congress had delegated powers to EPA that, under the Constitution, it cannot.
The opinion said EPA exceeded its authority because the standards for distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy levels of pollution were too vague.
"What EPA lacks is any determinate criterion for drawing lines. It has failed to state intelligibly how much (pollution) is too much," the court said.
The opinion also said that, while the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments required EPA to consider the health benefits of ozone as a shield to carcinogenic ultraviolet rays "in estimating the effects of ozone concentrations, EPA explicitly disregarded these alleged benefits."
The majority opinion was written by Circuit Judges Stephen Williams and Douglas Ginsburg. Circuit Judge David Tatel strongly dissented, arguing that the ruling ignored prior legal and judicial interpretations of the Clean Air Act.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said, "We are deeply disappointed by the Court of Appeals ruling, particularly given the court's explicit recognition that there is a strong scientific and public health rationale for tougher air quality standards."
The regulations were not scheduled to take effect in most areas for at least another 4 years, after increased monitoring of airborne pollutants.
ReactionsWilliam Frick, American Petroleum Institute general counsel, said the court decison "confirms many of the points made by the broad-based Air Quality Standards Coalition (AQSC), of which API is a member, during public debate of these standards.
"The court ruled that EPA's new ozone and particulate matter National Ambient Air Quality Standards (Naaqs) amounted to an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority. The decision confirms our contention that EPA's issuance of the ozone and particulate matter Naaqs took such a broad construction of its power that the agency usurped the power of Congress. In other words, the court said the agency's role is to implement laws, not to write them."
API said the court also held that EPA could not enforce a more stringent ozone standard while the existing standard is still being implemented. It said the court remanded the revised particulate matter standard for fine particles to EPA for reconsideration and will ask for further briefs on whether it should be vacated. The particulate matter standard for coarse particles was vacated.
"This decision gives EPA another opportunity to fully take into consideration the recommendations of its own Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. A review of scientific studies and the results of recent exposure research show the current air quality standard for ozone is protective of human health," Frick said.
"EPA's science advisers urged the agency to implement a targeted research program to address the many unanswered questions and scientific uncertainties about whether fine particles are a health problem, and EPA should now do exactly that.
"It is both prudent and safe to do the research first, because air pollutants that form particulate matter will be reduced significantly through 2005 while the research is conducted."
The National Automobile Dealers Association said the decision "throws into question EPA's recently issued vehicle emissions and low-sulfur fuel proposals."
The National Association of Manufacturers said its members "have long complained about the EPA setting standards that are unrealistically strict and that are not reasonably related to a clear health benefit.
"The ruling requires EPA to say why the ozone pollution levels it has set are reasonable in terms of health effects. EPA does not have the authority, according to the court, to adopt a permissible ozone level that would ruin industry, just as it does not have the authority to do nothing at all. Instead, it must take into account the actual health effects of ozone."
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