Thursday, May 24, 2018
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A win for public health

Americans can, for now, all breathe a little easier because the U.S. Supreme Court - unanimously - has upheld the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's delegated power to set air quality standards based on public health requirements alone, without regard for costs of compliance.

It was a major victory for supporters of clean air, including the American Lung Association and the EPA itself, as well as for every breathing creature. And it should go a long way toward cementing resolve and offering intellectual and legal vindication for a health-based, no-smoking ban here.

More important, it could also end the assault mounted a few years back by the American Trucking Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, plus Ohio, Michigan, and West Virginia, before a sympathetic, conservative U.S. Court of Appeals bench in the nation's capital.

No doubt business interests will search the ranks of Congress for members they can persuade to act against the public interest, but this would be a nice time for our elected federal officials to show a little backbone and just say no. It would also help to persuade Michigan and Ohio politicians to stick up for those who breathe, not those who pollute.

There will be grumbling in northwest Ohio if the federal clean air standards require people to have car exhaust systems checked annually, mainly because we've been spoiled.

Such checks are no problem in states requiring annual auto safety inspections, where emission checks are easily included - these don't usually include auto manufacturing states such as our own. The checks are also not much of a problem in states like California, where stringent emissions standards are set for new vehicles sold.

If emission checks come to pass, we need to view them positively, as an investment in community health. We can't carry on as smokers and bar owners in Lucas County have at the prospect of a health department ban on smoking in enclosed public places.

Seen in a broad context - smoking tobacco had nothing to do with this case - the Supreme Court ruling shoots down the short-sighted view that public health provisions that don't consider economics are invalid, as well as the contention that elective bodies can't delegate their public health functions.

It wasn't a total sweep for the EPA, however. A section of the ruling effectively blocked EPA enforcement of ozone standards set in 1997, saying it must consider two seemingly contradictory sections of the Clean Air Act in setting a proper standard.

The court's clarity in this opinion grew hazy when it sent back to EPA a restrictive plan for applying its ozone standard in regions of the country that haven't yet met an earlier ozone standard - something sure to delay implementation. A new one, the court said, must incorporate seemingly opposing provisions of the Clean Air Act.

Still, the decision is a vindication of the U.S. EPA's decades of effort to make air fit for Americans to breathe. And it was a colossal triumph for public health.

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