NACo Catalogs Recent Supreme Court Decisions That Affect Counties

An article in the August 25th edition of the National Association of Counties’ (NACo’s) County News examined cases being considered as part of the United States Supreme Court’s 2014 docket that could pose a significant effect on county governments.  The article noted that it was the first in a two-part series and focused on four subject areas: (1) First Amendment rights including legislative prayer, employee speech protections when testifying in court under oath, and restrictions on protests at abortion clinics; (2) 14th Amendment Rights pertaining to prohibiting affirmative action preferences through voter ballot; (3) the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate; and (4) the federal Clean Air Act’s (CAA’s) “Good Neighbor” provision.

Here is an excerpt from the article relating to the CAA:

The Clean Air Act’s (CAA) Good Neighbor Provision prohibits upwind states from emitting air pollution in amounts that will contribute significantly to downwind states failing to attain air quality standards. In EPA v. EME Homer City Generation, the lower court concluded that upwind states must be given a chance to allocate their emissions budgets when they are known, before the federal government can do so, and that EPA can only rely on physical contributions to air pollution when determining responsibility for downwind pollution.

The court, in a 6–2 opinion, disagreed. It concluded the CAA does not require that states be given a second opportunity to file State Improvement Plans (SIP) after EPA has informed them of their emissions budgets.  The CAA makes it clear that once EPA has found a SIP inadequate, EPA has a statutory obligation to issue a Federal Improvement Plan.

The court further concluded that the Good Neighbor Provision does not require EPA to disregard costs and consider only each upwind state’s physically proportionate responsibility for each downwind state’s air quality problem. “EPA’s cost-effective allocation of emission reductions among upwind States, we hold, is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor Provision.”  States and local governments filed on both sides in this case.