Flurry of Clean Air Act suits exposes partisan tensions

By Sean Reilly | 05/14/2024 01:28 PM EDT

The Republican state-led suits target EPA’s attempts to further rein in the coal-fired power sector’s pollution and limit accidental chemical releases.

Emissions rise from smokestacks.

Emissions rise from the smokestacks at the Jeffrey Energy Center coal power plant as the suns sets Sept. 18, 2021, near Emmett, Kansas. A series of Clean Air Act lawsuits have been filed against EPA recently. Charlie Riedel/AP

More than a decade ago, a phalanx of Republican-run states mobilized in federal court in an ultimately unsuccessful quest to block EPA’s first-ever air toxics standards for coal-fired power plants. Many are now back for a rematch over an update to those regulations.

In a lawsuit filed late last week with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, North Dakota and 22 other states seek to void EPA’s decision last month to close a mercury emissions loophole for plants that burn lignite, a low-grade form of coal. The new regulations also tighten limits on releases of arsenic and other metals.

The new lawsuit is part of a flurry of litigation against recent Clean Air Act rules. While EPA maintains that the stricter standards are readily achievable, the suit underscores the enduring partisan tensions surrounding attempts to rein in the coal-fired power sector’s pollution.


In a news release announcing the suit, Drew Wrigley, North Dakota’s Republican attorney general, charged that the stricter rules would impose “great costs” with no corresponding health benefits. The state is home to the bulk of the nation’s remaining lignite-fueled plants.