Supreme Court Ruling On Epa Mandate

There are some disturbing implications of the Supreme Court ruling today regarding EPA enforcement of the Clean Air Act:

The 5-4 decision, a victory for environmentalists, found the EPA did not go too far when it overruled a decision by Alaska regulators, who wanted to let the operators of a zinc and lead mine use cheaper anti-pollution technology for power generation.

In short, the deal is this: the mine built a new electric generator and the Alaska state government authorized them to install emission reduction technology that reduced emissions by 30 percent. The US EPA did not agree with that authorization, and ordered the mine to install technology to reduce emissions from the new generator by 90 percent. The mine found this order prohibitively costly, and Alaska found this to be a violation of state’s rights. A federal court disagreed with Alaska, saying that the EPA has the final jurisdiction over enforcement of the Clean Air Act, and the Supreme Court agreed.

This decision flies in the face of the knowledge problem, the issue at the heart of this very website. Local regulators are going to be in a better position to know the costs, benefits, and tradeoffs in the specific local conditions (although even a local regulator will never, never, be able to capture or replicate the information of individual economic actors). The counterargument to this is that the EPA may do a better job of aggregating preferences across multiple jurisdictions (I am skeptical about their ability or incentive to do this impartially), but in the case of an isolated mine in Alaska, the issue of transboundary pollution is specious as a justification for federal regulation. Another counterargument may be that the local regulators are captured by the local regulated firms. Possible.

I have other concerns about this ruling, but will leave them for later.


4 thoughts on “Supreme Court Ruling On Epa Mandate

  1. “The counterargument to this is that the EPA may do a better job of aggregating preferences across multiple jurisdictions (I am skeptical about their ability or incentive to do this impartially), but in the case of an isolated mine in Alaska, the issue of transboundary pollution is specious as a justification for federal regulation.”

    continueing along this line of reasoning, the epa has no jurisdiction anywhere, since all pollution is “local”. i assume you believe water doesn’t flow, air doesn’t move, it all stays ‘local’.

  2. You have made my point exactly. In cases where pollution is unlikely to cross a boundary, and in this case if it *did* it would be an issue with Canada, not the other states, then I think it’s fair to ask where the logic is behind the EPA’s jurisdiction.

  3. Exactly! The goal of federal regulations should be something akin to the supreme court, a final appeal for cases either concering states or unresovable without reference to the constitution. This is why the federal courts did not overturn Illinois local telecomm regulations that forbade SBC from spiking usage fees for competitors.

    I’ve posted a link to this article from my site. http://www.chicagoreport.net

  4. lynne, gosh, i certainly wasn’t intending to make your point. it was intended to be sarcasm. perhaps not biting enough ;-).

    i think that the point of having national laws, as opposed to local/state laws, is to rectify problems for which a local solution is not sufficient. we have unending instances of *local* pollution at some point in time/space infringing beyond the local time/space. ddt was fine, used *locally* all over the u.s. and after a period of time found to have unacceptable (at least to some of us) consequences. or old paint factories (locally, across the street), now closed, leaving illness causing soil for someone else to suffer/deal with. people on a local level were clearly not dealing with the issues, since the ill effects either flowed downstream, drifted in the wind to somewhere else, or was sufficiently buried so that only the children or grandchildren would have to deal with it.

    so we create standards on a national level (worldwide would be better) so all economic entities are on a level (in this respect)playing field and also, so someone down the road isn’t dealing with a careless person’s crap. standards are pointless, not to mention hopelessly complicated, if they can be different for each village, city, state, region.

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