Clean Air Villain of the Month

June 2000


(Washington, D.C. June 7, 2000) - The nonprofit Clean Air Trust today awarded its clean air "Villain of the Month" award for June to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Trust named the High Court for its recent decision to accept a petition by industry groups that want to subject national clean air standards to a prospective cost-benefit test.

"If the Supreme Court sides with industry, it would repeal the core premise of the 1970 Clean Air Act: that all Americans have the right to clean air," noted , executive director of the Clean Air Trust.

Since 1970, O'Donnell explained, the Clean Air Act has also been based on the "fundamental principle that science, not politics, should inform the public on the effects of air pollution on public health and welfare." The industry groups, O'Donnell added, "seek to repeal that fundamental principle and base the air quality standards on political considerations."

Industry was ecstatic. "This is terrific," said an attorney for the anti-clean air U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Supreme Court's decision to permit the industry appeal was a surprise, O'Donnell said, "because virtually everyone had believed this was a settled issue." He noted that on four previous occasions -- twice in 1980 and again in 1984 and in 1991 -- the High Court declined to review lower court decisions that national clean air standards were to be based on science alone.

Historical footnote: the concept of national air standards actually came from the Nixon administration, which sold the idea to Congress in part because the administration guaranteed that only science would determine the standards.

O'Donnell noted there is some irony in the Supreme Court's timing. Sen. George Voinovich (R-OH) has introduced legislation that would achieve the same outcome sought by industry, but Voinovich hasn't succeeded in building support for his plan -- it's even been panned by progressive electric power companies.

In theory, it's the job of Congress -- not the courts -- to write laws. O'Donnell noted the Supreme Court "would significantly depart from that principle" if it ultimately sides with industry in this case.

O'Donnell added the High Court justices "could go from villains to heroes" if they reject the industry position "since that would put this bogus industry argument to rest." The case will be argued in November, with a decision expected next year.