With its decision Tuesday to back Environmental Protection Agency rules on coal pollution, the Supreme Court dealt a heavy blow to efforts by Appalachian legislators, including Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District, to halt regulations some have blamed for choking out power plants in Pennsylvania.
In a 6-2 ruling, the court backed the EPA's right to police coal pollution that drifts over state borders, enforcing the so-called "good neighbor" rule that drove a wedge between coal-producing states and the East Coast states
where airborne pollution drifts.
The rule requires upwind states, including Pennsylvania, to limit emissions that could drift toward neighbors and cause health problems.
That decision, combined with several similar rulings and more possible regulations on the way, pushes back attempts by Shuster and his colleagues to counter the so-called "war on coal" - a theme that has appeared in the representative's campaign ads and comments this year.
"I am extremely disappointed in today's ruling by the Supreme Court," Shuster said Tuesday in a news release. "A federal appeals court in Washington already struck this regulation down last year, but that didn't [stop] President [Barack] Obama from doubling down on his radical environmental agenda."
The administration has racked up more recent victories: A federal court has ordered the EPA to set new smog-reducing rules, and an appeals court upheld a Clean Air Act rule cutting pollution from mercury, the New York Times reported last week.
Battles with the EPA - a common topic for Shuster - have turned up in his House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, garnering support from Republicans and from some coal-state Democrats, like ranking committee Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va.
At a hearing on unrelated water regulations in Altoona last week, Shuster and his colleagues turned the topic to EPA coal rules; one representative said coal plant closures could eliminate the power equivalent of 60 nuclear plants and raise energy prices for years to come.
EPA analysis indicates the "good neighbor" rule could prevent health problems like asthma, bronchitis and heart attacks for hundreds of thousands of people. But for coal-country representatives like Shuster and Rahall, fighting the federal agency is a given.
"Where I come from, in the heart of West Virginia's coal country, if you step across the line into someone else's backyard and challenge them to a fight, you stick around and duke it out," Rahall said of the EPA last year.
Governor field shrinks
The campaign for governor is quickly taking shape, with Republican Gov. Tom Corbett now free from a primary challenge, and his likely Democratic challengers turning their attention to the party's frontrunner.
The state Supreme Court knocked Bob Guzzardi, a Montgomery County Republican, from the ballot last week, noting that he failed to properly file documents with state authorities. Corbett supporters had backed the challenge, hoping to avoid even a long-shot primary fight.
At a debate Thursday, Corbett's Democratic opponents - most notably U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-13th District, and state Treasurer Rob McCord - went after the party's lead candidate, York businessman Tom Wolf, hoping to close the gap with the primary less than three weeks away.
In other news:
- Josh Lang, a Republican up against recently elected state Rep. Jesse Topper, R-Bedford, recently complained to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Topper, like many other legislators facing district changes, has been able to send official, state-funded newsletters to constituents whom he doesn't yet represent. That could offer incumbents like Topper an unfair advantage, reform advocates have said.
"Under my unique circumstances, it was very important for people to know who their representative was at that moment, and what district they would be a part of come the new election," Topper told the newspaper.
- State Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona, is set to hold a town hall meeting 5:30 p.m. Monday at the Altoona library.