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Pennsylvania Pollution Case Faces 3rd Circuit

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - The 3rd Circuit heard convoluted arguments on Pennsylvania pollution-control plans that unquestionably rely on faulty assumptions.

Environmentalists with the National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club and Clean Air Council complain that Pennsylvania's program to reduce haze - pollutants that cloud the air and reduce visibility - falls far below federal standards.

It petitioned the federal appeals court for review based on the claim that the Environmental Protection Agency capriciously OK'd the program without providing a rationale.

"EPA approved a plan that provided for no emissions reductions," Charles McPhedran told a three-judge panel Tuesday on behalf of the NPCA. "This plan does not solve this problem and it does not require any reductions."

The federal program requires states to mandate that polluters retrofit their facilities with the best available technology so long as it is cost effective. When Pennsylvania submitted its plan to comply with the program, the EPA found the state had "very limited information describing [its] analyses" and did "not allow for an assessment of how [its cost estimates] were derived or whether [its] analyses were reasonable done," according to the agency's reply brief.

The EPA still allowed the state, however, to cap particulate emissions at a rate more than three times higher than the general standard allowed.

Though the EPA found Pennsylvania's program reasonable, its decision is vague on why states like Arizona face stricter standards.

"If you don't supply the reasons, the court does not supply the reasons," Judge Thomas Ambro told Kate Bowers, counsel for the EPA.

The emissions in question, including nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, do not directly affect Pennsylvania.

Rather, they obscure visibility in states to the north that contain federal parks, areas most prioritized for protection under the act.

Bowers argued that the EPA had determined that implementing the most stringent standards would be incredibly costly for emitters in the state and would result in only negligible benefits to Pennsylvania's neighbors.

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