Supremes say upgrading coal plants without reducing pollution a no-no

We love the Supreme Court this week. In a unanimous decision yesterday, Big Justice overturned a lower court ruling and declared that Duke Energy did indeed violate the Clean Air Act when it modernized coal plants without paying for pollution-reduction equipment. Duke had claimed it wasn’t required to consult the U.S. EPA when upgrading eight plants between 1988 and 2000, as it did not increase their hourly emissions; green groups had sued, arguing that modifications increased the number of hours the plants were in operation, thus increasing annual emissions, thus necessitating a permit. Right you are, said the Supremes, in a ruling that may have a green-colored ripple effect. The case now heads back down to district court. SCOTUS chose not to rule on Duke’s backup argument, that federal clean-air requirements should not be triggered by “routine maintenance.” And a complete overhaul of a plant is totally routine maintenance, right?