A federal court this week did an about-face, ruling (pdf) that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must enforce admittedly faulty regulations restricting power plant emissions until they're replaced by new improved ones.
"We are convinced that, notwithstanding the relative flaws of [the Clean Air Interstate Rule, CAIR], allowing CAIR to remain in effect until it is replaced by a rule consistent with our opinion would at least temporarily preserve the environmental values [translation: clean air] covered by CAIR,"  the federal Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., wrote in its decision (pdf) yesterday.

As written, CAIR is the Bush administration's plan to cut emissions of acid-rain-forming sulfur dioxide (SO2), smog-causing nitrogen oxides (NOx)and soot via a cap-and-trade program. Under the plan, which will now take effect on Jan. 1, SO2 emissons are set to be reduced by 70 percent and NOx emissions by 60 percent below 2003 levels by 2015.

To reach that goal, the overall pollution cap will steadily decline in coming years and polluters will be handed allowances for the amount of pollution they can emit by law. Those power plants that emit less than they are allowed can then sell their excess allowances to those power plants finding it difficult to reduce pollution.

The EPA, environmentalists, state governments and industry all hailed the decision in the petition brought by the state of North Carolina. The state had brought suit because eliminating the rules would pose a serious impediment to its efforts to clean up and meet soot air quality standards.

But the court order for the EPA to come up with a different plan for reducing pollution still stands. The court declined to set a deadline for this new plan but said "we do not intend to grant an indefinite stay of the effectiveness of this court's decision."

As it stands, at least 25 states have air quality that falls afoul of soot standards, according to EPA. 

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