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Monday, 22 May, 2000, 17:31 GMT 18:31 UK
Supreme Court takes on pollution battle
Protest in Seattle
Environmentalists clashed with police in Seattle last year
The US Supreme Court is to examine claims that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted illegally by introducing tougher clean air standards.

Industrial and environmental lobby groups are at loggerheads over the clean air issue, which government lawyers say carries "profound implications for the health of the American public".

The new standards were successfully challenged by a large alliance of industry groups and three states - Michigan, Ohio and West Virginia.
factory chimneys
US industry groups oppose the tougher regulations

The Supreme Court will now review that federal appeals court ruling which prevented the EPA enforcing its new standards, which are aimed at reducing smog and soot.

The three-judge appeals court panel ruled that the EPA had interpreted the 1990 Clean Air Act "so loosely" that it illegally usurped the legislative power of the US Congress.

The Supreme Court's decision is expected some time in 2001.

The Clean Air Act authorises the EPA to issue air quality standards to protect human health, based on "the latest scientific knowledge".

Government lawyers argue that the appeals court decision could undermine numerous other federal statutes granting broad powers to agencies such as the EPA.

New limits

The revised air standards limited the allowable level of ozone - an essential part of smog - to 0.08 parts per million, instead of the previous 0.12 parts per million.

And for the first time states were required to limit soot emissions from power plants, cars and other sources.

The EPA says that smog and particulate matter like soot accounts for 15,000 premature deaths, one million cases of respiratory disease and 400,000 asthma attacks in the US annually.

The EPA says the tougher standards are needed to protect people with respiratory ailments, the elderly and children from air pollution.

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