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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

The Case to Limit Enviro Regulations

Air Date: Week of January 16, 2004

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Advocates for clean air in Southern California and clean water in the Florida Everglades took their cases to the U.S. Supreme Court and found the Bush administration among their opponents. Jeff Young reports from Washington.

Transcript

CURWOOD: The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments recently on two cases that will affect air quality in California and water quality in the Florida Everglades. And as Living on Earth’s Jeff Young reports, the Bush Administration took the unusual step of weighing in on both cases.

YOUNG: Western oil companies, Detroit engine makers and a Florida water pump all had help from the Bush administration when they went before the nation's highest court. Engine makers and oil companies want to stop rules requiring clean vehicle fleets in Southern California. There, owners of 15 or more trucks, cars or buses must buy the cleanest vehicles on the market. The Engine Manufacturers Association's Jed Mandel says that goes beyond the intent of the Clean Air Act and could lead to a country with a hodgepodge of standards.

MANDEL: It's very important to recognize that these vehicles are produced on an assembly line in one part of the country and sold nationwide. And if we allow separate jurisdictions to adopt separate emission regulations we'll end up with a balkanized set of rules that will simply not allow manufacturers to cost-effectively sell vehicles.

YOUNG: Mandel says that's why the law limits who can set vehicle emission standards. But clean air advocates say these are not standards for those who make fleets of autos, but rules for those who buy them to pick the cleanest models. Gail Feuer of the Natural Resources Defense Council says the rules are needed to address the biggest sources of air pollution: the ones on wheels.

FEUER: If the court rules in favor of engine manufacturers and the oil industry, it really will doom regions around the country to decades of dirty air for us and for our children.

YOUNG: The clean water case asks whether a water pumping station at the edge of the Everglades should be held to federal water pollution standards. South Florida Water district manager Nicholas Gutierrez says no, because it doesn't pollute water, it just moves it.

GUTIERREZ: We are not adding pollutants to water, we are simply moving water to keep 136 thousand residents of western Broward county from flooding.

YOUNG: The water is runoff polluted by phosphorus, and environmental attorney Dexter Lehtinen says that hinders Everglades restoration.

LEHTINEN: That's what it's about. They say that the water that's polluted anywhere in the U.S. can be moved any other water body, and we say no.

YOUNG: Both cases could affect clean water and air across the country, as western states import more water and cities struggle to meet more stringent air standards for soot and smog. And in both cases, President Bush's top lawyers argued against regulation. Environmentalists say that's a reversal by federal government that hinders state efforts at pollution prevention and cleanup. Bill Becker represents state and local air pollution control agencies.

BECKER: We're bewildered. I mean if ever there was a tailor-made case for the federal government and this administration to be supporting state rights, this is it. And we're very disappointed that they would weigh in on the other side.

YOUNG: The Justices are expected to rule on both cases this summer. For Living on Earth, I’m Jeff Young in Washington.

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