Highway projects must comply with clean air plans

provided by Environmental Defense Fund


n a decision that halts funding for dozens of polluting highway projects in several metropolitan areas, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has ruled that current Federal regulations for approving highway construction violate the Clean Air Act. The Court ruled for EDF on all issues, striking down Environmental Protection Agency regulations that allowed funding of planned highways in areas where transportation plans do not conform to state air-pollution control plans.

The Court also overturned an EPA rule that encouraged construction of roads with non-Federal funds to evade Clean Air Act accountability. Finally, the Court ruled that disapproved and inadequate state air-pollution plans cannot be used as the benchmark for approving new transportation plans.

"This Court ruling protects the public from highway projects that would add more pollution in areas that already violate national air quality standards," said Michael Replogle, EDF Federal transportation director. "It will make it easier for local officials to fund non-highway alternatives that will improve air quality, protect public health, and expand travel options."

The Clean Air Act requires cities with harmful pollution levels to adopt 20-year transportation plans that will achieve the limits on motor vehicle emissions shown in their state air-pollution control plan. The new ruling means that many previously approved road projects cannot be funded until cities revise their plans to ensure that motor vehicle emissions will not worsen an area's air pollution.

Added Replogle, "This ruling will encourage transportation agencies to avoid the mistakes of Atlanta, where officials illegally approved more than $700 million in road projects after it was known that the projects would add to excess pollution levels. Atlanta must revise its transportation plan to cut air pollution before spending more on highway projects."

The ruling directly affects road construction within the D.C. Circuit Court's jurisdiction, including projects in Atlanta and the North Carolina metropolitan areas of Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, and Winston-Salem. In the longer run, the ruling will encourage authorities in all polluted metropolitan areas to draw up transportation plans that will achieve Clean Air Act requirements.

"When Congress enacted these Clean Air Act provisions in 1990," said Robert E. Yuhnke, EDF's attorney in the case, "it sought to insure that billions of dollars in Federal transportation funding would not worsen air pollution at the same time that other government agencies were requiring emission reductions to protect public health. This ruling helps assure that transportation investments will be part of the solution in seriously polluted metropolitan areas, not part of the problem."

  The Environmental Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization, links science, economics and law to create innovative, equitable and economically viable solutions to today's environmental problems. EDF Membership, (800) 684-3322. Environmental Defense Fund, 257 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010; www.edf.org