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Court considers states' environmental authority

By Associated Press
Published October 9, 2003

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court was urged Wednesday to keep the federal government from second-guessing state environmental decisions.

The justices are considering whether the Environmental Protection Agency went too far by overruling Alaska regulators' decision to let the operators of a zinc and lead mine use less costly antipollution technology for power generation.

The Clean Air Act allows state officials to make some decisions involving their own facilities.

Much of the argument at the high court focused on when, and how, the EPA can intervene when it disagrees with some technology decisions.

Thomas Hunger, representing the Bush administration, told justices that for at least 20 years the EPA has handled cases the way it did the Red Dog mine, issuing its own administrative order.

"I'm just dubious this is the kind of review that Congress envisioned," Justice Antonin Scalia told Hunger.

Washington lawyer Jonathan Franklin, representing Alaska's environmental agency, said that "the states take their responsibility seriously" in putting the law in place.

The Supreme Court in recent years has issued a series of states' rights rulings that have increased state powers. Later this term the court will review a second Clean Air Act case requiring justices to decide if Los Angeles can go beyond the federal law to impose tougher antismog rules for city buses, airport shuttles and other vehicles.

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