(CN) - The Environmental Protection Agency failed to justify continuing the delay of rules on air emissions, which had already been put off for more than 10 years, a federal judge ruled.
Over environmentalist' objections, courts had granted a number of extensions to a Clean Air Act deadline of November 2000 for the agency to set standards on emissions from boilers and solid-waste incineration.
The EPA issued rules that apply to commerce and industry in early 2011. But two days before the rules were set to take effect in May last year, the agency delayed their implementation, setting the wheels in motion for a challenge by the Sierra Club, which has persistently litigated to push the rules forward.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington found that the delay was arbitrary and capricious, agreeing with the Sierra Club for three of four reasons.
Justification for the delay had not lived up to judicial standards, as it should have; it was not based on any underlying litigation, as the agency had argued; and it went against an EPA precedent to apply a four-part test weighing harm, including to the public.
By EPA estimates, the new rules would prevent nearly 7,000 premature deaths each year and nearly two million days of restricted personal activity due to air pollution.
The EPA "failed to come to grips" with its own prior precedent in neglecting to apply the balance of harms test, according to the 43-page ruling.
Although the agency had "paid lip service" to litigation that allegedly formed the basis for its delay, Friedman said it didn't establish a connection to the underlying legal issues.
The court vacated the delay and sent the issue back to the agency.
In reaction to the ruling, the American Forest and Paper Association issued a statement saying the vacatur will put "tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs at risk."
The U.S. House of Representatives voted last October to delay the boiler rule.
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