U.S. Supreme Court hears opening arguments in Clean Air Act case

Fans of respiration held their collective breath yesterday as the Supreme Court began hearing a case about Clean Air Act violations. The case addresses claims by Duke Energy and other companies that the U.S. EPA got lawsuit-happy in the Clinton era, trying to force poor, helpless utilities to add pollution controls when they upgraded their facilities — and, Duke says, reinterpreting air-quality rules along the way. The EPA and environmental groups sigh that the guidelines have long been clear and that utilities should suck it up. In an odd twist, the feds — who tried to convince the court not to take up the case — find themselves on the same side as environmentalists (and are no doubt trying to make sure none of the cool kids see them sitting together). For their part, the Supremes huffed and puffed their way through the first day. “What I’m concerned about,” said Justice Antonin Scalia, “is that companies can get whipsawed.” And that’s a bad thing?