Court hands coal-fired power plants huge victory on pollution regs

The long-running legal battle launched by the Clinton administration against aging coal-fired power plants — the nation’s largest industrial source of smog-, asthma-, and global-warming-causing emissions — was dealt a decisive blow yesterday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled that Duke Energy did not need U.S. EPA permits to modify eight power plants in the Carolinas between 1988 and 2000. The permits would have triggered new-source review (NSR) provisions of the Clean Air Act, requiring Duke to install more effective pollution controls. Why no permits needed? Well, the changes to the plants enabled them to operate longer hours, thus increasing their overall pollution, but they didn’t increase the plants’ hourly rate of pollution, you see. Explaining this distinction to your asthmatic children may be tricky, but it makes perfect sense to Scott Segal of industry lobbying group the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, who says the ruling “eviscerates the legal basis” of the Clinton interpretation of NSR. President Bush has been trying to roll back NSR since his first term.