Supreme Court Rules Against California Air-Quality Regulators

The Supreme Court ruled 8-1 yesterday that Southern Californian air-quality officials had overstepped their legal bounds when they required operators of private fleets (bus lines, trash haulers, etc.) in the region to purchase only low-pollution vehicles. The ruling was bitterly disappointing for officials in a region with one of the nation’s worst air-pollution problems, which lately has been getting worse rather than better following decades of steady improvement. Also disappointed were 17 states and a variety of city, county, and state groups that filed friend-of-the-court briefs supporting California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District. The court prohibited only regulation of private fleets, leaving it to a lower court to decide whether public fleets are fair game. The defeat of the 2001 rules — which have put more than 8,900 low-polluting vehicles on California roads, and were projected by 2010 to eliminate 4,780 tons per year of polluting emissions — was characterized by a lawyer for the industry groups that filed the lawsuit as “beneficial to the environment.”