Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision upholding EPA rule will benefit Wisconsin residents

MADISON — State by state, air pollution from coal-fired power plants is a deadly export. Here in Wisconsin, we’re breathing pollution from states as far away as Texas, Virginia and North Carolina. The smog and soot are tied to heart attacks, bronchitis and asthma. Wind patterns make us a bad neighbor as well, whisking our pollutants all over the map to communities in Michigan, New Jersey, South Dakota and many others.

“The Supreme Court decision upholding the cross-state air pollution rule is a definite game-changer,” said Katie Nekola, general counsel for Clean Wisconsin, the state’s largest environmental organization. “The decision acknowledges that EPA has the authority and duty to address the regional impacts of air pollution, and that we need to  move away from our reliance on the coal-fired power plants at the root of the problem.”

The cross-state air pollution rule is an Environmental Protection Agency regulation for coal plant pollution that travels often long distances from their source in Wisconsin and 27 other Eastern states. In Wisconsin alone, it’s estimated that there will be 440 fewer premature deaths annually because of improved air quality as a result of this rule. Improved public health also carries an estimated economic benefit for Wisconsin of up to $3.5 billion annually.

  • In 2011, more than 4,700 Wisconsin residents were hospitalized with asthma and more than 19,000 sought emergency room care for asthma. (Department of Health Services)
  • Chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or other chronic lower respiratory diseases, not including asthma, were the cause of death of 2,454 Wisconsin residents in 2008. (American Lung Association)
  • In the past 15 years, the number of children with asthma has more than doubled. (UW Health)

The cross-state air pollution rule was designed to more aggressively limit nitrogen oxide (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions when the Clean Air Interstate Rule was found to be deficient in addressing state-to-state pollution. Utilities and industry groups such as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce helped to lead a nationwide legal challenge. Tuesday’s ruling effectively concludes the court action in favor of the EPA moving forward with the plan.

“A lot of special interests in Wisconsin cried wolf, but when you look at the rule it really is a commonsense measure,” said Nekola. “Air pollution is a regional and national problem, and it calls for comprehensive solutions.”