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Wednesday February 28, 2001

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Court upholds how EPA sets clean-air standards

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court, turning aside the stiffest challenge to the Clean Air Act in the law's 30-year history, upheld the way the federal government sets clean-air standards.

In so doing, the high court yesterday unanimously rejected industry arguments that officials must balance compliance costs against the health benefits of cleaner air.

The ruling was a major boost for the federal Clean Air Act. It said the law does not require the government to consider the financial cost of reducing harmful emissions when it sets air-quality standards.

The justices also ruled against industry arguments that the Environmental Protection Agency took too much lawmaking power from Congress when it set tougher standards for ozone and soot in 1997.

But the court ruled unlawful the EPA's policy for implementing new ozone rules, saying the agency's interpretation of a section of the Clean Air Act was unreasonable.

The Clean Air Act "unambiguously bars cost considerations" from the process of setting air-quality standards," and thus ends the matter for us as well as the EPA," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the court.

The federal law, "which ... we interpret as requiring the EPA to set air quality standards at the level that is 'requisite' - that is, not lower or higher than is necessary - to protect the public health with an adequate margin of safety, fits comfortably within the scope of discretion permitted by our precedent," Scalia wrote.

"This decision is a victory for the Clean Air Act and for the health of the American people," said American Lung Association leader John R. Garrison.

Edward W. Warren, the lawyer for industry groups that challenged the law, said, "We're no worse off than we've been all along ... but we didn't win. That's disappointing to me."