WASHINGTON - A federal appeals court ruled today that the Environmental Protection Agency was justified in not establishing a new air quality standard for acid rain.
The EPA decided in 2012 after a lengthy rulemaking proceeding that it needed further scientific study before it could set a new air quality standard for oxides of nitrogen and oxides of sulfur.
Environmental groups claimed that EPA's failure to issue a new multi-pollutant rule violated the Clean Air Act.
In a 3-0 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said it was turning aside the environmental groups' petition for judicial review because the EPA could not form a reasoned judgment as the Clean Air Act requires.
"EPA did not simply leave in place the old standard," said appeals judge A. William Randolph. "Although it did not promulgate a new standard, it identified the data gaps that prevented it from doing so and initiated a data-collection program designed precisely to fill those gaps and facilitate future regulation."
Once EPA found that the two current standards were inadequate with respect to acid rain, the agency sought to determine what new multi-pollutant standard would be appropriate, the judges said. EPA recognized that a new national ambient air quality standard would necessarily be more complex than those set historically for just one pollutant, the court wrote.
Randolph is an appointee of President George H.W. Bush. The other two judges on the case were Brett Kavanaugh, an appointee of President George W. Bush, and David Sentelle, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan.
Kassie Siegel, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that while many people think the acid rain problem has been solved, it is still a very serious problem in many regions of the country, including lakes and streams in the Adirondacks and the Shenandoah region. The center was one of the groups petitioning the court in the case. Siegel said the ruling is disappointing, but the EPA is required to take a fresh look at the acid rain issue every five years, a process that is already under way.
EPA spokeswoman Liz Purchia said the agency is pleased with the outcome and will continue to use science and the law to protect public health and the environment.