What: In 1997 the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA)established new ozone standards. The EPA also placed specialrestrictions on twenty-two states in the Ohio Valley and Midwestregions to prevent emissions from coal-burning power plants frombeing carried into the New England States by wind currents. (Tennessee is one of these twenty-two states. ) Both of theserulings were recently either struck down or placed on hold byFederal Appeals Courts.
Why: The regulations put into place in 1997 by the EPA weremore restrictive than the 1990 standards. The regulations limitthe amount of ground level ozone and fine particle pollutionpermitted. Ground level ozone is produced by nitrogen oxide(NOx)which is created by burning fossil fuels. Since gasoline anddiesel are both fossil fuels, then NOx is a major component ofautomobile emissions.
Several members of the trucking and fossilfuel industries, as well as members of the twenty-two stateregion, have challenged the regulations in Federal Court and havebeen successful in blocking the implementation of the new rules. In the past two months, two separate Federal Court Of Appealspanels have ruled that the EPA’s authority to establish clean airstandards is not properly delegated by Congress under the CleanAir Act. Therefore, since the EPA is a part of the Executivebranch of government and not the Legislative, they have noauthority to produce regulations on their own. The plaintiffs inthe case also argued that the amount of pollution a person cantolerate has not been established and until it is the EPA shouldnot make the current regulations more restrictive. How: The main actors in this event are the AmericanTrucking Associations and their fellow plaintiffs, the twenty-twostate coalition, the EPA, and the Federal Appeals Court. Why would the American Trucking Associations and otherfossil fuel burning industries want to limit the EPA’s authority? What do they have to gain? Last year, according to the EPA’s ownpress release detailing their enforcement efforts in fiscal year1998, the EPA referred 266 criminal cases to the Department ofJustice, as well as 411 civil court cases.
Approximately half ofthe civil cases required violators to change the way they managetheir facilities or to reduce their emissions or discharges. TheEPA also assessed almost $93 million dollars in criminal finesand another $92 million in civil penalties. In addition to finesand penalties, polluters spent over $2 billion dollars to correctviolations. Not included in this estimate would be the legalexpenses incurred or the advertising and marketing costs requiredto mend a damaged pubic relations image.
Clearly it is in theindustries’ best financial interest if the regulations are lessrestrictive. Many companies that spent large amounts of money tomeet the 1990 Clean Air Act standards would have to spend evenmore to meet the amended 1997 standards. Do the states in the twenty-two state region have anotherreason to argue against the standards? According to SeanCavanagh’s article in the April 4, 1999 edition of theChattanooga Times/Free Press, Atlanta lost $700 million infederal roads money as a result of failing to come up with apollution containment plan. In addition, the state of Georgiahad to fund a state “superagency” to develop and enforce transitplans that meet federal standards. The states joined theindustrial groups in claiming that the new standards are toostrict and are unnecessary.
Chattanooga is not expected to meetthe new requirements by the year 2000 deadline and ChattanoogaMayor Kensey and Tennessee Governor Sundquist were two of thepublic officials who protested the new standards as being toostrict. Are the new standards too strict? How does the EPAdetermine the required levels? According to the press releaseissued by the EPA following the court’s decision, the FederalCourts are not questioning “the science and process conducted bythe EPA justifying the setting of new, more protectivestandards. ” The EPA claims that their standards, which aredesigned to limit the affects that smog and soot have on peoplewith respiratory problems, protect 125 million Americansincluding 35 million children. The Federal Courts only haveissue with the constitutionality of certain parts of the CleanAir Act that allow the EPA to establish clean air regulations inthe interest of public health. The EPA is recommending that theDepartment of Justice appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court. Several interest groups are closely watching the case.
Thepowerful industrial and truckers lobby groups are supporting theplaintiffs, while several environmental lobby groups and healthassociations, such as the American Lung Association, aresupporting the EPA’s efforts. All interest groups haveapparently been relatively quiet so far since the issue is acourt case and most are probably afraid of being accused oftrying to influence the courts decision. If the issue gets a newlife in Congress then obviously the lobbyist will be more active. Opinion: Who gets what, when and how. The EPA is trying toestablish new clean air requirements to take effect in the year2000 by using the public health clause of the Clean Air Act. Theplaintiffs are trying to avoid having to spend more money to meetthe requirements by 2000 by arguing that the public health clauseis unconstitutional.
What is the federal government’s stand on the issue. WhiteHouse press secretary Joe Lockhart claimed that they are “deeplydisappointed” by the courts decision. Considering that theliberals are generally supportive of environmental issues this isnot surprising, but what about the conservatives? Republicansare usually more protective of business interest. More strict laws on environmental issues will cause fewer new companies tostart-up. This would of course have an adverse affect on theeconomy.
It should be noted that the two judges who voted on theside of the plaintiffs in both of these case were Reaganappointees and therefore probably conservatives. Is it fair for the EPA to impose new strict standards onlyseven years after instituting sweeping changes in clean airregulations? Many companies are probably still paying for thenew programs they implented to help meet the previous standards. Fair or not these standards are probably necessary. Ground levelozone contributes significantly to smog. Smog, according to aneditorial by the Chattanooga Times’ Harry Austin on May 20,1999,in turn affects not only our health, but also crop andforest loss, acid rain and fog production, and increases regionalhaze. If there are so many important benefits to reducing groundlevel ozone then why is the public so silent on the matter? Probably for two reasons.
First, confusion with atmosphericozone. The ozone surrounding the Earth blocks out radiation fromthe sun. Ground level ozone traps in fine particles. The holein the Earth’s ozone layer makes the evening news. Smog alsomakes the evening news, but very little is ever said about thecontribution made to it by ground level ozone.
Many Americansprobably just consider more ozone a good thing, but it’s not ifit’s not in the right place. Secondly, in an article written byJeff Dean for the Associated Press a survey was cited that statedthat Americans are discouraged by the Earth’s environmentalproblems and are beginning to feel there is nothing that can bedone, therefore why even worry about it. The EPA is trying to dosomething about our problems and is meeting with resistance fromindustrial and transportation groups. If the Supreme Court doesnot overturn the lower court’s ruling and reinstate the newregulations then millions of Americans will continue to sufferthe effects of smog. If the court rules the regulations voidbecause they are not properly delegated by Congress then thefloodgates will open on lawsuits against numerous suchregulations. If an already unproductive Congress is forced tocreate all of their own regulations then the country will come toa stand still.
If, however, these regulations are created atrandom without proper Congressional supervision then a mainportion of our system of checks and balances will be voided. Acompromise must me attained.