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US high court won\'t rule on TVA utility emissions

US high court won\ t rule on TVA utility emissions
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review a lower court\'s decision allowing the Tennessee Valley Authority to ignore a government order to clean up pollution from its coal-fired power plants.

Emissions from TVA\'s aging plants have been blamed for smog and haze that block vistas in national parks like the Great Smoky Mountains.

The Environmental Protection Agency during the Clinton administration sued the TVA and several other utilities for upgrading plants without installing pollution controls required under a section of the Clean Air Act known as \"new source review.\"

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta last June rejected the process the EPA used to force TVA to comply with the guidelines as \"contrary to the rule of law.\"

The Justice Department, pressing the case on behalf of the EPA, in February asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the ruling. The high court rejected the request with no comment or explanation.

\"We\'re pleased that the procedural arguments have been concluded,\" said TVA director Bill Baxter.

Between 1977 and 2010, TVA plans to spend $5.6 billion on pollution-reduction devices to cut precursors of smog and haze by up to 80 percent. \"That\'s what we ought to be focusing on, not all this legal wrangling,\" Baxter said.

Created during the Depression, TVA is the nation\'s largest public power producer and supplies about 8 million customers in seven southeastern states. It owns 11 coal-fired plants.

Utility groups applauded the decision, while environmental groups called on the Justice Department to refile its case in a federal court.

A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on whether or how it will pursue the case.

\"The facts never supported application of the new source review program to these maintenance projects,\" said Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council. The lobbying group represents other utilities facing similar litigation, including Southern Co. (SO.N: Quote, Profile, Research)

Environmental groups criticized the ruling.

\"The Supreme Court basically told TVA that it can pollute with immunity unless the EPA brings a suit against it,\" said Frank O\'Donnell at the Clean Air Trust. \"The Bush administration should move quickly to sue TVA or else it will appear to be siding with smokestacks and polluters.\"

Story by Chris Baltimore

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